‘Selfish’ mountaineer’s transformative journey to lifetime of giving back

Adventuring legend Graeme Dingle expects a lot from people but he is not “entirely comfortable” with them calling him Sir . . . .

BEVAN READ/FAIRFAX NZ
Graeme Dingle has been made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to youth in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.


 

Dingle has become a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (KNZM), for services to youth, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

“Oh that bastard,” the spry 70-year-old snorts when asked if his knighthood, his third honour, has anything to do with him introducing outdoor pursuits to more than 500,000 mostly young Kiwis.


SIMON MAUDE/FAIRFAX NZ
Sir Graeme Dingle, KNZM, MBE, atop Auckland’s Mt Wellington with family dog Blue.


 

Instead, he said, his knighthood was “an acknowledgement of lots of good people doing great work,” referring to the about 800 people running charities he leads.

Dingle, Gisborne-born, Hutt Valley High School educated, said his own adventure-seeking in New Zealand’s wilderness was transformative.

“I was a shy, scared little boy from Gisborne, I was a little kid scared of the dark, scared of people, scared of snakes.


SUPPLIED
Dingle said his knighthood is “an acknowledgement of lots of good people doing great work”.


 

“Searching my bed every night in case there was a snake.

“The outdoors transformed me from a scrawny little kid who fainted at every standing event to someone who was physically really strong that could hack-it with the best, really.”

From 1968 Dingle racked up a number of climbing firsts including ascending the ice-laden and avalanche-prone north faces of all six major European peaks, making the first 5000km Himalayan traverse and, in 1971, making the first winter traverse of the Southern Alps.


UNKNOWN
“You’re obsessed with climbing mountains and you won’t fill your cup until you do things that are good for other people,” a colleague told a young Graeme Dingle.


 

It was during the traverse a friend gave him advice he has carried with him since.

“During the traverse Jill Tremaine suddenly said to me, ‘Graeme, you know life’s a cup to be filled not to be drained.’

“I went ‘what?’


SUPPLIED
“The outdoors transformed me from a scrawny little kid who fainted at every standing event to someone who was physically really strong that could hack-it with the best really,” Graeme Dingle said.


 

“She explained over a period of about two weeks in sub-zero temperatures.

“‘You’re actually a selfish person, you’re boring because you’re obsessed with climbing mountains and you won’t fill your cup until you do things that are good for other people’ – that was a huge lesson.

“I went out and borrowed a truck-load of money and went and set up a charity.”


FAIRFAX NZ
Graeme Dingle and Jo-anne Wilkinson with dog Jenny in 1995.


 

In 1972 Dingle established the country’s first outdoor pursuits centre, the central North Island’s Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre.

“That was the beginning, we had to build the place, we had our mates working together, we’d drive down the road in an old van and pick up hitch-hikers and sell them the idea of staying some nights and doing some work.

“It was a huge amount of work but the rewards were seen on the first night of the first course – a group of enthusiastic school kids from Wainuiomata, just revelling in the experience. Two of those kids came back as instructors.

“For the last 20 years or so I’ve met some chief executives of big companies who said, ‘that programme changed my life. I left there and knew exactly where I was going'”.

Hearing that “makes one’s life feel worthwhile,” Dingle said.

In 1995 Dingle, with wife Jo-anne Wilkinson, launched Project K, now known as the Graeme Dingle Foundation.

The charitable trust offers programmes aiming to inspire New Zealand school kids to reach their potential through self-esteem building programmes.

Twenty-five thousand youth are using the foundation’s services every year and  the aim is to get numbers up to 100,000 per year, Dingle said.

Evidently Dingle is a driven man and there is still more work for him to do.

He has also authored 11 books, including the 2006 Montana Book Award’s winning biography and he even came second in the inaugural Coast to Coast endurance race.

Yet he still fears failure.

“The ultimate vision is to make New Zealand the best place in the world for kids, we’re far from being there.

“We have the highest rates of youth suicide and all sort of things we can’t be proud of.

“We have to resolve these issues – I’m confident.

“It’s all about the kids of course.”
 – Stuff