A LEGEND of Australian TV, Mal Leyland has been honoured with the Australian Geographic Society's 2019 Lifetime of Adventure award.
Lifetime achievement awards are the society's highest honour, toasting recipients not only for their long commitment to their chosen field but for giving back to the nation and inspiring countless other Australians.
During the 1970s millions got to know Mal and his late brother Mike through the hugely popular weekly series Ask the Leyland Brothers. In each episode, the brothers, along with their wives and kids, set off in their Kombi vans with a Super 8 camera to explore the countryside.
It was Australia's first travel show and its home-video laid-back style was the complete opposite of today's televised travel shows with their diet of luxury resorts, spas and fancy restaurants.
Where the brothers went was decided not by sponsors but by the questions viewers wanted answered.
Friend and fellow adventurer Dick Smith was among those inspired by their spirit of adventure: "They did it all so inexpensively, spreading the message that anyone could do it," he said.
Mal, 75, is still travelling but without his beloved wife Laraine, who died in 2018. After almost 50 years of marriage, much of it spent on the road, he misses her terribly.
The Kombi of old is gone, traded in for the relative luxury of a motorhome, and many of the dusty roads he once travelled are now sealed bitumen. He sees more sophisticated vehicles on the roads, the sort that rarely break down, but he says the people are just the same "people with a thirst to see the country for themselves, who have a sense of curiosity".
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These days his companion and navigator is often his daughter Carmen, 42, the cute tousle-haired toddler many viewers will remember from back in the early days of the series. At the time of writing the pair were travelling from Adelaide to Darwin.
Mal is hoping a TV network may be encouraged to pick up another Leyland series, this time fronted by him and his daughter. In the meantime, he is doing regular segments on the morning talk show Studio Ten on Network Ten and is contemplating conducting tag-along tours where he would take a convoy of 9-10 vehicles with him into the outback.
Mal wants to see more Australians exploring their own backyard and believes travellers could be the saviours of many struggling drought-hit towns.
While he doesn't begrudge his fellow Aussies their overseas holidays, for him it has always been Australia. "Why would you want to go anywhere else?"
The 2019 Lifetime of Conservation award went to Great Barrier Reef ecotourism pioneer John Rumney.
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