It seemed appropriate in the final Hello Hello! to reflect on the evolution of what has become a somewhat of a movement to revive the Wilkins legacy. The resurgence started with the books of inspired modern writers well before I became interested: Stuart E Jenness (2004), Simon Nasht (2005), Jeff Maynard (2010) and the late Malcolm Andrews (2011 now deceased). These authors inspired citizen researchers like me to do things like give talks and build websites with resources which are ready to be included in the school curriculum to enrich the lives of coming generations. The History Trust is set to take what these authors and those who have contributed to the Wilkins Foundation, and other websites, to the next level. So, I have written a short history of my own Wilkins Work in the years leading up to the formation of the Foundation – to which so many people have contributed. The Foundation didn’t just appear – and thankfully the research and work done by so many volunteers will not disappear either.
What follows is my own little history of involvement in preserving and extending the legacy of Captain, Sir George Hubert Wilkins – the period which led up to the formation of the Wilkins Foundation. It is a personal recollection focused on my own work. Included are some details I found in my hodgepodge filing cabinet. I have no doubt neglected many people and events – and made some mistakes. For these I apologise.
I have undertaken this, as it seemed useful to record the trajectory of this little historically focused Wilkins Movement. And it seemed best to do this from my personal perspective as the initiating founder. There will be other perspectives of course, but this is mine. I hope not to have offended anyone; if I have, I am also sorry about that. I have appreciated the volunteer contributions of each person I have worked with over the past decade. It has been a true labour of love which has enriched my life considerably.
It is my intention to take a year or so sabbatical from the Wilkins Work I have been doing with the Foundation, and my research and writing about the spiritual life, values and character of Wilkins – what made him tick. I am grateful that I was invited to enunciate what I think about Wilkins though an Afterword in the republication of Under the North Pole by the Friends of the State Library, Australian Publications. I wrote a much longer monograph entitled ‘The Character and Spiritual Life of Sir Hubert Wilkins.’ <https://www.wilkinsfoundation.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/checked-and-modified-copy-of-Introduction-to-Under-the-North-Pole.pdf> which resides in the Philosophy Page <https://www.wilkinsfoundation.org.au/domains/philosophy/> where a video and a couple of other articles I have written reside.
Anyway, here is the story of my Wilkins interest prior to the building of the website and the publication of the Wilkins Foundation newsletter Hello Hello!, which began with an invite to the first Wilkins Oration in September 2019. The newsletters and the website tells the story. But not the back-story:
As a twenty-three-year-old, I first heard the name Sir Hubert Wilkins from an octogenarian New Age teacher, Fred Robinson. Fred was born in 1891, just three years after Wilkins, and had followed his career closely. He told me that Wilkins was one of the most famous modern polar explorers and aviators. He also told me that Wilkins was a student of The Urantia Book, the same book Fred had been teaching from – The Urantia Book. While I also studied this book, I knew almost nothing about Wilkins until …
I serendipitously met Mark Pharaoh, the curator of the Polar Collections at the South Australian Museum (SAM). I had just had my doctorate conferred (Social Science/Philosophy), about the part which Fred Robinson and his wife Mary Broun, played in the Australian New Age and back-to-the-land movement. I asked Mark if he knew anything about this Wilkins fellow. He did. And quite a lot too. He asked me what I knew. I told him I only remembered, albeit fuzzily, that Fred had said Wilkins had helped contribute to the printing costs of the first edition of The Urantia Book.That’s really all I knew about Wilkins. Mark and I got talking and he recommended Simon Nasht’s book The Last Explorer, and Jeff Maynard’s Wings of Ice. I was quickly hooked: astounded by breadth and depth of the Wilkins accomplishments – and the remarkably humble way he went about fulfilling his inspirations to do the almost impossible things that he planned.
From Mount Bryn East!?
I even heard that Wilkins was the reason that William Randolph Hearst had the iconic scroll-along-news text set up in Time Square. I wondered what kind of thinking and inner direction Wilkins must have employed to envision his expeditions and get so much done. I bought everything there was to read on Wilkins. There was a lot to get my head around.
In May 2013, Mark Pharaoh, invited me to accompany a Waterhouse Club Tour, and to speak about the lesser-known beliefs of Wilkins. The venue of my talk was the Mount Bryan East Primary School (now a trekkers hut) – with the dilapidated local Church next to the school. Here I met the wonderful and dedicated people of the Sir Hubert Wilkins Memorial Committee who curate Wilkins family cottage not far away. This organisation has quite a story to tell. Its innovative fund-raising activities for the restoration and upkeep of ‘Netfield’ are legendary in the Mid-North. Dick Smith and the Australian Geographic Magazine had kick-started the ‘Netfield’ Rebuild < https://www.visitburra.com/sir-hubert-wilkins-cottage/> It is a must visit for real understanding of the life of Wilkins.
This year Sir George Hubert Wilkins was inducted into the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame
I was keen to do something substantial to make Wilkins more well known to all South Australians – if not the world. Mark Pharaoh had introduced me to some of the extended family of Wilkins living in Adelaide. It eventuated that Kaye Ridge (great niece to her ‘Uncle George’), Andrew Ridge (great-great nephew), Mark Pharaoh and me formed the core of an informal Sir Hubert Wilkins Interest Group with the almost humorous acronym of SHWIG. We met and corresponded about what we might do and how to do it. I generated a range of fanciful ideas – it’s my forte. Others on the team helped to focus on some more realistic tasks, and an event was planned.
During this year I met with Paul Ryan of 57 Films, and the film director, Tait Muller. We began working on big film ideas (separate from SHWIG). It is not easy to get a feature film ‘up’ – but we were having a crack at it, and it was great working together on this Wilkins project.
Each member of the SHWIG Committee presented local speaking engagements for Rotary and Probus clubs mainly, along with some local radio and a few newspaper articles. We made contact with all the Australian Wilkins authors, and The Ohio State University’s Laura Kissel who curates the Wilkins Collection within the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Centre. I spent considerable time applying for a Churchill Scholarship. I hoped to spend time exploring the Wilkins Archive, and to meet some still-living associates of Wilkins, with the aim of writing a book. I didn’t get the scholarship. Since then, most of the Wilkins associates I was in contact with have passed on. Fortunately, I had an extensive correspondence with some of them.
Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change
Professor Corey Bradshaw was appointed to the Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change on the 1st of January this year taking over from Professor Barry Brook https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barry_Brook_(scientist)
Our contact with Corey inspired him to write an article titled, ‘George Hubert Wilkins – Australia’s first whitefella conservationist’ https://conservationbytes.com/2016/07/06/george-hubert-wilkins-australias-first-whitefella-conservationist/
First Major Public Event
On the 21st of January 2015, SHWIG ran a free public event in SA Museum’s Armory Gallery. Melbourne based author/researcher, Jeff Maynard, who knows more about what Wilkins did than anyone, was the guest speaker. We had received some good press coverage. The upstairs hall became more than full – an occupational health and safety nightmare. Anyone who was there that day will well remember the event. It was as hot as Hades! The Museum had waived the fee for the hall, while 57 Films supplied a catered supper. This was no boring History buff event. It was a buzz. Wilkins was clearly a crowd puller in Adelaide. The Royal Geographical Society’s Geo News published an articleabout the meeting written by SHWIG’s Andrew Ridge describing the event (PDF to insert as a link). They also included an advertisement for a Wilkins focussed commemoration of the centenary of Anzac, to be held at the Mt Bryan Soldiers Memorial Hall (PDF to be inserted)
Wilkins Film Night
A significant number of people who attended the SHWIG meeting in January visited the Wilkins Homestead and supported the Sir Hubert Wilkins Memorial Committee by attending a most remarkable fundraising night at Mt Bryan on the 20th March. Country food, a local choir between and a three-course dinner, with a private viewing of three 20min WWI films made by Wilkins. The night was a hit. The Mount Bryan Soldiers Memorial Hall was the centre of the Universe for the evening. It was such a successful evening that it won the Regional Council of Goyder Event of the Year Award.
This year a SHWIG Steering Committee was formed when Dr Charmaine Hockley (a great niece of Sir Hubert) and Duncan Hockley became part of the group. Duncan was a great Chair. Charmaine and Duncan brought something special to the table. The aims and objectives were discussed and formed, and plans were made for other events. Christine Venema (another Wilkins great niece) was also part of this Committee. Unfortunately, I am not very helpful on a committee. This must have been frustrating.
Jeff Maynard’s The Unseen Anzac describes ‘how an enigmatic polar explorer created Australia’s World War I photographs.’ Dr. Brendan Nelson, the Director of The Australian War Memorial contributed the Foreword. This book included much new information about Wilkins. Used in conjunction with the War Memorial’s photographs available online – the book brings the Western Front Wilkins to life.
The Urantia Notebook of Sir Hubert Wilkins: Fact Finder and Truth Seeker https://www.amazon.com.au/Urantia-Notebook-Sir-Hubert-Wilkins/dp/0996716505
This book contains quotes under subject headings, which were painstakingly transcribed by Saskia Praamsma and Matthew Block. In my opinion, the two Introductions to this book: ‘Fact Finder’ and ‘Truth Seeker’ make a valuable contribution to an understanding of Wilkins.
Sir Hubert was inducted into the Australian Cinematographer’s Society Hall of Fame (https://cinematographer.org.au/hall-of-fame/sir-george-hubert-wilkins/?no_frame=1)
Event at Hetzel Lecture Theatre, State Library 4th July:
Alan Smith, the then Director of the State Library of South Australia (SLSA) gave us the use of the Hetzel Lecture Theatre.
This event launched the republication of Wilkins’s book Undiscovered Australia, with – about his expedition in North-East Australia for the British Museum was a sell out. The Aims of SHWIG were explained in a leaflet (link to PDF if we have it). The speakers were Professor Corey Bradshaw, Mark Pharoah, Mark Gilbert and me. We all spoke about various contemporary issues related to the Wilkins legacy – including the republication with various new Introductions.
On the 30th November Steven ‘Mike’ Ross died.
Sir Hubert’s personal secretary, Winston Ross, adopted Mike – who had a significant number of Hubert’s belongings in an Amish shed nearby his home. It’s a long story told by Jeff Maynard. Mike helped ‘fill in the blanks about Sir Hubert’s life from information passed down to him from Winston. It was a book project Mike was proud to be involved with’ (from Mike’s obituary). I had a series of long email exchanges with Mike early in 2016, which answered some questions and posed others. Mike was deep reader of The Urantia Book – the one which Wilkins gave his father. Remarkably, the 30th of November is the same day on which Wilkins passed on.
A new edition of Ross McMullin’s book, Will Dyson: Australia’s radical genius, was published. As they worked together on the Western Front in 2017-18, Wilkins is mentioned many times. A little sketch of Wilkins working is included. This book helped to colour in the many sketches I had of Wilkins I had gleaned from Jeff Maynard’s, The Unseen Anzac.
The Friends of the State Library’s, Australiana Publications republished Undiscovered Australia with a new Introductions by Craig Williams. Colin Harris and Valerie Sitters.
In the early part of this year I went to New Zealand where I swam in the World Masters Games (2 Golds and 3 Silvers) – and the Australian team I was in beat the Russians in the Men’s Relay. And I made many friends and spread the word about Wilkins, who spent considerable time in Dunedin, where the Wyatt Earp set off and returned on a number of occasions. (Wyatt Earp: The little ship with many names, by The Trish Burgess is a marvellous little book which features Wilkins). https://www.connorcourtpublishing.com.au/Wyatt-Earp-The-little-ship-with-many-names–Trish-Burgess_p_361.html
The Royal Geographic Society Meeting 21 September: With Dr Andy Thomas
This most stimulating meeting included holding a little rock from the moon. After a short discussion about Wilkins, Andy asked me the following: ‘Was Wilkins an adventurer or a scientist? I can’t quite work that out.’ My response was surprising – even to me: ‘He was an adventurous scientist; or perhaps a scientific adventurer. He had an open and intuitive mind. He was and is still enigmatic to most people, because he was able to envision the sciences of the future. He saw all of life – and the afterlife – as an adventure.’ I remember the conversation and my answer (which I no doubt refined and embellished a little here). The question Andy Asked was – and still is – an important one to contemplate.
The Sir Hubert Wilkins Interest Group Lecture of the Year (the SHWIGLY)
I delivered this lecture entitled ‘What Made Wilkins Tick?’ on the 31st October at the Hetzel Lecture Theatre, State Library. Despite this Halloween being a rather stormy night, the hall was about three quarters ful. The text I wrote about this event gives an idea of the content of the talk. As there was no recording of the event, I have included the slightly edited text here from the invitation to that evening:
There is something about studying the life of SHW which goes beyond the history of happenings: what he ‘did’. Reading about him, one is impressed by the ‘way’ he did things and his attitude towards both his successes and failures. I think his adventurous spirit, along with his generous, respectful, and modest character, carries a gift for our time. That’s why I research him, and why I feel it is important to promote him, especially to the next generation. If we could understand more about his thinking and philosophy – how he ticked – as well as his explorations and innovations in such a wide range of domains, we would make his history live in our personal lives. I believe Wilkins can yet make an even more important contribution to society than he already has. His desire to strive for a “higher culture” is much more accepted today than in his own life.
So in essence the talk is designed to help
- unlock the Wilkins-like spirit within us
- nourish us via stories of a ‘hero’ worthy of the word and concept
- share something of his faith in God and his religious affiliations
- show that to SHW God was the propelling pogo-stick that made him the man of action he was; rather than being a stabilising crutch which is only needed when crippled
- explore something of SHW’s informed hope in the “great adventure” awaiting us in the “hereafter”.
Through sharing what I have researched about Wilkins’s philosophy, faith, beliefs and hopes, I plan to examine what Wilkins might say today about the pervading materialism and atheism spread by many public intellectuals. The talk will try to unpack in simple language SHW’s core beliefs regarding the purpose of life, and how these shaped his character, and his actions—what he did.
While this lecture was well received and a request that it be published had me working on it, I could not resist continually adding to it. And do so to this day. I will perhaps publish this now 90,000-word document sometime. It remains in 3rd draft form. The evolution of The Wilkins Foundation – along with life – took over. I am good at starting things but find finishing them a struggle; there is always something new to start doing. Oh well, I’ll muddle along. I thank God for those who help me get at least some things done. (please excuse my indulgent soliloquetic reflectivity or reflexivity – there is a difference).
The Adelaide Club
In November, I had the pleasure and honour of speaking at the Adelaide Club. While I had spoken there on another occasion about Wilkins, this dinner speech to the Military Group within the club was the most memorable. Everyone was dressed in full miliary attire; and I wore a penguin suit with my father’s medals (Captain, Alan Carthew, MBE, was a POW at Changi and Hell Fire Pass). The title of this strictly twenty-minute talk was ‘Bean on Wilkins.’ I have a draft for a 30,000-word paper on this subject which I am calling ‘The Bean Team: Philosophy in the trenches of the Western Front’. One day I may get this unfinished research into a publishable form. Or have it taken over by a ‘finisher’.
The Great Horizon: 50 Tales of Exploration, by Jo Woolf was published this year. Wilkins is included in the section titled, ‘Visions for Change’.
Wilkins in the West
In April this year I went to Western Australia, where I was hosted by my good friend Gordon Tayler. We swam in the Australian Masters Swimming Championships, and also ran a few Wilkins talks in Perth and the Southwest of WA, where I once lived. The promo pamphlet can be seen here (PDF ‘Wilkins Promo 2018 – final master see ‘Documents to be hyperlinked’). These talks were a total flop from a ‘bums-on-seats’ perspective, but they did make it clear that the name Wilkins was not going to pull a crowd in Western Australia like he does in South Australia. Here is Gordon’s perspective of this trip: ‘ Stephen’s visit was a very special time. My connection to Wilkins is mainly about my own forty-year-long study of what I believe is the most important book on our planet, ‘The Urantia Book’, a book which Wilkins also studied in depth during the last seventeen years of his life. Also, my own father was a RAAF pilot in WW2, and Wilkins adventures in the air certainly matched some hair-raising moments my father experienced.’ Gordon put Wilkins photographs to a song he composed for his father Megan Wilson, my cousin, sang it https://youtu.be/w2k09R8cbY8 and we put it up on the Music page https://www.wilkinsfoundation.org.au/domains/music/
Pic of Wilkins of the website with a Press button? . Gordon is a music teacher, and a well-recognised composer in Bunbury where he lives.
The Surf Boat Rowers and the Flying Archer
There was one unscheduled talk I gave to a packed house of surf boat rowers. Warwick Archer, a sweep of the most dangerous kind, had asked me to fill in as a guest speaker for the prize night of the Australian Surf Boat Championships. By a fluke he discovered I was in Perth on that day – this was synchronicity plus. Anyway, the life of Wilkins did resonate with this rather special audience. There was quite a buzz in the room. Warwick reflets:
‘I think the punch line was taking risks; challenging nature and oneself. The similarities between Wilkins & surf rowers was palpably clear to all present.’ Warwick, who I swim with at Brighton, has given a number of talks on Wilkins himself; he had told me about the Wilkins Cottage well before I had become interested. Having flown his own plane for many years, Warwick contributed to the Aviation page on the website (https://www.wilkinsfoundation.org.au/domains/aviation/). I learnt about Wilkins and many of his ilk at Primary school when these great adventurers were as popular and as well-known as AFL players today, and left a far greater legacy.
The Second SHWIGLY
Simon Nasht delivered this lecture at the Allan Scott Auditorium, courtesy of Uni SA
This was a packed evening of multiple speakers in the second half. Almost half of the full audience left after Simons great talk. the by Simon Nasht (including the launch of the Wilkins Foundation Website). The first half of this evening was recorded. It can be seen here and can be watched in the Resources seen in the Soon after this Simons talk and the launch of the Foundation’s website, Dr. Richard ‘Harry’ Harris and Stephen Scammel expressed interest to Simon about preserving and extending the legacy of Wilkins. Simon put them in touch with me, and the Wilkins Foundation was underway.
A Day with Dick
In November of 2018 Dick Smith was in town. I met him at the Stamford Grand in Glenelg on a morning he was giving a talk about online travel agencies. Dick is an engaging speaker and great fun to spend a day with. We went to the Museum and talked about all sorts of things including the identity of the person who created the Marree Man https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11183723/Marree-Man-South-Australian-outback-mystery-Dick-Smith-offers-reward-information.html
It became clear that Dick was not a committee sort of guy. I think it was this day with Dick that encouraged me to persist in calling the group of people who came together for the Foundation a ‘Board’ rather than a ‘Committee’. And our Chair, Stephen Scammell was very strong about that: ‘A “Board” speaks of getting things done.’ When Philip van Dueren was transcribing one of the Wilkins Diaries he discovered that Sir Hubert had written about committees:
‘A committee (member) is one who wastes hours and keeps minutes. A committee is a group of incompetents, appointed by the unthinking to determine the non-essential.’
While this cynical, view of group inaction is no doubt a tongue-in-cheek definition, it does speak obliquely to the value and efficacy of what can be termed a ‘free deed’ – where someone does something out of intuition and the love of doing it, guided by ethical principles; to act creatively and unhesitatingly, carrying out what lives within, without going through the often-dulling process of having to ratify every action via a committee. Collegiate decision making between such free deeders is something quite different from most committee processes. Anyway, Dicks visit had a very positive effect on me – even though we are poles apart on most religious and spiritual matters. The differences didn’t seem to matter. I had read his book, Our Fantastic Planet: Circling the globe via the poles (1991), and seen how he had made a special effort to make pilgrimage to places where Wilkins had been. Our mutual interest in doing something to promote worthy Australian heroes like Wilkins was heart-warming and inspiring. And it was an absolute delight to meet Dick’s wife, Pip. They were also in Adelaide to promote the relocation of the Vickers Vimy. Something which the History Trust of South Australia has been much involved in. Dick goes about agitating for such things – and gets publicity. The Advertiser ran a story, with follow up letters of support.
Perhaps use these pics
During this year Stephen Scammel Chaired the Foundation with zest and collegiality – and we achieved much. The SHWIG account was closed, and the assets went to the Wilkins Foundation. The transference of my energy from SHWIG to The Wilkins Foundation was a bumpy road for me and all concerned.
In May this year Dr Richard ‘Harry’ Harris, who had become Australian of the year with Craig Challen, held a professional press conference at South Australian Film Corp. Heather Riddell, PR and media specialist, was able to achieve Australia wide publicity.
During this year a board was formed, and later in the year a successful ‘Wilkins Oration’ was held. The newsletters from here on
The Wilkins Oration
The Foundation partnered with The Environment Institute for the first Wilkins Oration, at Adelaide University’s Bragg Theatre. We shared expenses to bring out and look after Laura Kissel, the Senior Curator at The Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center. This institution houses the bulk of the Wilkins archive. Laura explained just how extensive the Wilkins collection is; while Simon Nasht spoke about the Blackburn Kangaroo’s Great Race of 1919. An article by Annemarie Gaskin gives a word picture of the evening https://blogs.adelaide.edu.au/environment/2019/11/07/reinvigorating-sas-top-earlier-adventurer-sir-hubert-wilkins/
The evening was recorded by Justin McGuiness (a distant relative of Wilkins) where both Laura’s and Simon’s talks can be viewed (https://www.wilkinsfoundation.org.au/orations/
Ten Remarkable Australians: They made their mark on the world but were forgotten, by Ian Macfarlane, with a forward by Geoffrey Blainey. The chapter on Wilkins in Ian’s book recognises that Wilkins was not alone as ‘forgotten’ hero – mainly because he was not a self-promoter.
Lainie Anderson’s book, The Long Flight Home was published this year, and a film about it was produced and shown in December.
This year the Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith Fund gave generous financial support to refresh and focus the foundation’s website. With the technical support of 57 Films the website was indeed refreshed. In 2020 four newsletters were published.
This year something happened in world that changed many of the ways things were done. What was that now? The 2020 20/20 vision for the world was not quite what I had hoped for. Anyway. While the outer talks and events dried up, other important research began. Philip van Dueren got stuck into transcribing the diaries of Wilkins as per the agreement with Laura from The Ohio State University. Andrew Dawe, working with Dr Robert Bloomfield as editor, began putting together the Wilkins Chronicle – a compilation of Trove articles. So in one sense the hiatus in activities was most productive. Nina Bellersheim came on the board and started the Wilkins Foundation’s social media accounts.
The rest of the history of the Wilkins Foundation is best told via a long look at the website, and/or by following the newsletters which introduced new pages as the website evolved to the point it is at this last newsletter – when it was closed to become the Wilkins Project – which I have every confidence will give the Wilkins past a future now.