South Australia’s national hero and joint Australian of the Year 2019, Dr Richard Harris SC OAM, is on a new rescue mission: to revive the legacy of one of the world’s greatest adventurers and polar explorers, SA-born Sir George Hubert Wilkins.

In doing so, he also hopes to inspire the next generation of explorers and guardians of the planet, spark a greater interest in the natural sciences, and help children “unlock their inner explorer”.

Dr Harris was today announced as the patron of the newly formed Wilkins Foundation. The Foundation honours the extraordinary achievements of the Mount Bryan-born pioneer, more commonly known as Sir Hubert Wilkins – and who is better known in the United States than in his own state of South Australia.

“Sir Hubert, born in the bush in 1888, traversed the globe and became an engineer, explorer, meteorologist, ornithologist, aviator-navigator, official war photographer, cinematographer, geographer, sub-mariner, musicologist, poet and philosopher,” said Dr Harris. “He was fearlessly adventurous and one of the most knowledgeable and visionary intellectuals of his time.

“He was the ‘father of polar meteorology’ and one of the first to recognise the need for and the possibility of making long-term weather forecasts, in order to predict seasonal conditions. His mighty efforts, including a voyage in a tiny submarine beneath the ice pack in the North Pole in 1931, resulted in the establishment of weather stations at both the North and South Poles. These critical weather stations would eventually provide the data for an understanding that the climate was changing,” said Dr Harris.

“Wilkins, a dual Military Cross recipient, is an unsung hero and long overdue to be placed in the same category as other Australian explorers such as Sir Douglas Mawson, Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith and John McDouall Stuart.

“I want this foundation to bring the Wilkins legacy to the forefront of the Australian consciousness and give our younger generation a taste for adventure,” said Dr Harris.

He added that the volunteer group behind the Wilkins Foundation, chaired by Stephen Scammell, was now looking for seed sponsorship to help get its mission underway. “We have much to do to achieve our goals. These include education and life experience programs for school children, transforming our website into a major resource, and citizen science projects and research scholarships in the natural sciences arena to further the many areas of interest that so captivated Wilkins.”

For further information contact the Foundation.

Additional information

The Wilkins Foundation celebrates the life and achievements of the South Australian explorer, Captain Sir George Hubert Wilkins, who despite repeated rejection by the establishment of the day, steadfastly contributed a vast body of scientific knowledge of the natural world. The Wilkins Foundation aims to promote the values and tenacious spirit of Wilkins within schools and the wider community.

Our Patron, Richard Harris SC OAM, says of our mission to educate, foster research and promote the natural sciences that all Australians should be encouraged to “find their inner explorer”.

“I hope the foundation will allow Wilkins’ tales of derring-do to inspire Australians of all ages, in the same way that Wilkins’ story inspires me to step outside my comfort zone and challenge myself on a daily basis.”

Captain Sir George Hubert Wilkins is unknown to many and yet, as an Australian scientist, filmmaker and explorer he made an enormous contribution to the current body of knowledge of global climate, the polar regions and aviation. A true Renaissance man, he was a fearless World War 1 photographer and cinematographer whom Australia’s Lt General Monash described as ‘the bravest man I have ever seen’.

It is perhaps because of Wilkins’ ‘aggressive modesty’ that his name has not yet become synonymous with global exploration like some other figures of his time. Wilkins’ combination of courage, tenacity, leadership and relentless quest for knowledge makes him an inspiring historic figure who deserves to be a household name both in Australia and internationally.  We believe that people of all ages, and children especially, should be encouraged to ‘unlock their inner explorer’.

The Foundation was launched in October 2018 at the Hawke Centre, Adelaide, by Simon Nasht, the author of Wilkins biography, The Last Explorer.

The Wilkins Foundation Australia aims to:

  • Inspire Australians by promoting educational material for schools highlighting the life of Sir Hubert Wilkins
  • Transform the Wilkins Foundation website into a major resource
  • Develop a Wilkins Citizen Science Scholarship and research scholarships
  • Develop a Wilkins Adventure Grant for children to find their ‘inner explorer’
  • Promote recognition of Wilkins in Australia and internationally
  • Manage a philanthropic fund to support the activities of the Foundation, develop awards and medals to honour achievements in disciplines relevant to Wilkins’ pursuits, and create scholarships for outstanding students in relevant fields
  • Lobby to have public spaces, places and appropriate initiatives named after Wilkins
  • Employ the Wilkins name to increase awareness and understanding of the scientific, social, medical, environmental and economic issues emerging from climate change
  • Make his writings more available both in hard copy and online with links to archives worldwide as a service to students and scholars.
  • Arrange guided tours of Wilkins locations, collections and artefacts worldwide.
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