Australian adventure filmmaker connection to Mount Everest
LEADING adventure filmmaker Michael Dillon was 11 when he made his film debut. He “shot” The History of the Earth on a Meccano set camera, wound through with a strip of paper illustrated with his hand-drawn frames.
“I charged my parents, sister and dog a penny each to watch it,” he says. And though the Oscar went to another filmmaker that year, Dillon has picked up scores of local and international awards since.
When did you get your first real camera?
MD: In my early 20s I bought one of the cameras that had been used on Skippy the Bush Kangarooand hopped on a plane to Nepal to film one of the first commercial treks there. My big break came when the BBC bought the film.
You were involved in the first successful climb of Everest by Australians and the first from sea level. How did that come about?
MD: I filmed Australia’s first ascent of Everest in 1984 and noticed that one of the summiteers, Tim Macartney-Snape still had energy to spare on the summit. So I challenged him to attempt the ultimate climb, a full ascent of Everest, right from where it’s measured — sea level. He took up my challenge and this year is the 25th anniversary of Tim’s extraordinary, never since repeated, sea to summit ascent of Everest.
What moment of your travels will stay with you always?
MD: Seeing Everest for the first time, back in 1969. How surprised I would have been back then to know how much time I would eventually spend on its slopes, and how much time I would be spending in the company of the first man to set foot on its summit, Sir Edmund Hillary.
What is your connection to Hillary?
MD: In 1977 I got the job of filming his journey along the entire length of India’s River Ganges. We got on well and the film sold well so I ended up filming five other documentaries with him, right up until 1999, when I filmed him, 80 years old, still struggling up steep Himalayan slopes, doing work for the Sherpas. He was a humble man, with a great sense of humour, and was like a father figure to me. To have spent over two years in his company, on expeditions and while he was actively building schools for the Sherpas, has been the greatest privilege of my life.
How has the Everest region changed since then?
MD: The region hasn’t changed too much. There were no hotels and lodges back then. There are plenty now, but they blend in architecturally. It’s hard for anything man-made to overwhelm that extraordinary landscape.
Best place you have ever stayed?
MD: The Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur, India. It was nice being a maharajah for a day.
What destinations are on your wish list to capture on film?
MD: I haven’t been to Bhutan yet. I am hoping to film the work the Australian Himalayan Foundation is doing there.
What has travel taught you?
MD: Happiness is more closely linked to exposure to nature than to money.
Michael Dillon is leading an 18-day Australian Himalayan Foundation Everest Base Camp Trek in October.