I am a 66-year-old grandfather of four who has always been interested in Australian history and stories from our past.
About three years ago I started working as a volunteer with the Port Adelaide Library copying old photos of that district. I also took photos from the same place as these historic ones, revealing the changes.
They then asked me to find and edit articles that referenced different suburbs in the council area and place them on file for future reference. I learnt a lot of things that I had no idea about. For instance, I did not know there was an Adelaide suburb named ‘Chicago’. I found a headline that read: ‘A man died in a car accident in Chicago!’ I thought they were reporting on an accident from the USA. The name was changed to Kilburn.
Just over 18 months ago I saw an interview with Dr Richard Harris SC OAM, the Australian diver who assisted in the rescue of the young boys from the Thai soccer team trapped in the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave. He recounted how he had been inspired by people like Reg Sprigg and Sir Hubert Wilkins.
I discovered that Sir Hubert Wilkins was a once-famous Australian photographer, war hero, aviator and Arctic explorer—yet I had never heard of him before. At last year’s Wilkins Oration I purchased a booklet that told the story of Wilkins and I was amazed that I had not learnt of him at school in the 1960s where I was taught the history of the kings and queens of England but nothing about one of the 1920s and 30s most famous men. So I decided to see what had been said about him in our own newspapers. Having used Trove extensively I found multiple versions of stories about Wilkins from all over Australia—sometimes in twenty or more rural papers.
I discovered that Wilkins spent a great deal of his life trying to understand how the polar regions affected weather in higher latitudes. I was astounded to learn that in 1919 he conceived a plan to set up a network of meteorological stations in the Arctic Circle and on the Antarctic mainland. This idea was taken up by others and now plays an important part in understanding issues connected with climate change.
I also discovered that Wilkins was outspoken about the treatment of Indigenous people, the degradation of our land and extinction of native species—issues we are still handling today.
It appears that his uncomfortable honesty may have been the reason why his story was not taught in schools in the 1960s.
I hope that the Wilkins Foundation’s pressure for the inclusion of Wilkins in the school history curriculum, its development of The Wilkins Chronicle and the Wilkins Timeline, and its transcriptions of the Wilkins Diaries will enable Wilkins to become as famous in the public’s consciousness as he was during the 1930s when he was a household name. His life is surely one of the most interesting and inspiring stories for the inspiration of our youth.
I am thoroughly enjoying turning the Trove articles into the easily readable and accessible Wilkins Chronicle. He is such an important and truly great Australian.