On Monday 6 November 2023, a special 50th-anniversary dinner was held in the Anakiwa Dining Hall. The guests of honour were students of Hillary 111 - the first group of women to attend an Outward Bound course, and the watch remains a tight-knit group to this day.
In November 1973, ten young women travelled from various regions throughout Aotearoa to embark on their course - which, unbeknown to them at the time, would shape their lives for years to come. Fifty years on, they still marvel at their pluckiness to take part in the pioneering course and how they had no idea how challenging it would be.
In the years that followed their Outward Bound experience, the women have kept in touch, supporting each other through life's trials and tribulations. Kathy Neilson (Lynch) was 20 years old when she joined the Course 111 group and says the in-person catchups are special.
“No one really changes, you hear the same laugh, and you’re reminded of our time together.”
Outward Bound school director Hamish Reid says the school thoroughly enjoyed hosting the trailblazing women to celebrate the milestone.
“It was special to witness the watch to catch up, enjoy a meal together, see the school again and share memories of their course with current staff and students.
“It's inspiring to see how these mana wahine have stayed in touch with each other and continued to positively influence Outward Bound over the years following their course positively.”
Some of Hillary Watch returned to Anakiwa last year when the school commemorated 60 years of offering life-changing courses to New Zealanders. Kathy recalls the changes she has seen over the years, including how cumbersome the gear was on their original course.
“We didn’t have light kayaks or compact feather sleeping bags. Even the packs were heavy — not the nice lightweight ones you get now.”
She chuckles, “I was never a runner and still aren’t, but I came away very fit. These days when we unite, it is more social than active.”
Another watchmate, Margaret Robinson (Sherriff), became a passionate Outward Bound advocate after attending the 1973 course and has been instrumental in helping more than 550 students to experience an Outward Bound course. For Margaret, it's about seeing how ‘alive’ the kids looked when they returned and how they felt about themselves.
“Young adults have a huge amount of challenges ahead of them. We need to encourage them and get them there because it works. It brings out the best in people.”
Margaret continued to live by Outward Bound’s service philosophy by volunteering her skills as an architectural landscape designer, improving the Anakiwa environment and its neighbouring base at Te Kainga. Her expertise and passion have been the driving force behind many working bees at the school over the years. In 2021 Margaret was presented with The Outward Bound Trust of New Zealand Kurt Hahn Award, the organisation’s highest honour.
Kathy refers to the Outward Bound motto, 'To Serve, to Strive and not to Yield’, and says it describes most of her life well since completing Course 111.
“Before going to Outward Bound, my job and I were not really suited. My life had no direction, so following the course, I resigned and decided to go nursing”.
Kathy retired after a successful nursing career of 44 years, but when COVID-19 struck, she felt the need to return to her training, giving another few years of service to the community. She now serves ‘Mother Nature’, being active with BirdCare Aotearoa, and in her local community, she set up the Friends of Wairaki Stream group in Tāmaki Makaurau, where volunteers care for an area of native bush.
Kathy credits Outward Bound for helping her get through ‘the rough bits of life and keep going’. She would love to see more parents encourage their teenagers to do a course.
“Outward Bound teaches resilience and inner strength. It shows people they are part of a team where everyone has their strengths. It taught me that together we can achieve what we cannot do on our own”.