Wilkins and Wilkins

In 2017 Dr Stephen Carthew met Stephen Wilkins at an event run by the Sir Hubert Wilkins Interest Group. Stephen’s life seemed to echo his possible/probable distant relative George H Wilkins, especially the many trips they both did into Antarctic waters. 

Here is Stephen’s story.

I have often commented that it must be somewhat frustrating for the youth of today to feel that there is no longer any possibility of real adventure to be found on our planet. Perhaps this is why fantasy and science fiction genres are so popular — because they enable people to experience a form of ‘super-reality’. However I am living proof that in this modern world true adventure is definitely still possible.

My family has always been aware of our connection to the explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins. My grandfather spoke with conviction about a family link, and my father’s interest in Sir Hubert Wilkins, along with his extensive research into family tree records, have led us to a common ancestor in Bishop John Wilkins of Chester, England. To confirm this connection, however, will require a visit to the national archives at Cardiff in England.

In 1994, through connections of my father John Wilkins, three of us flew in the Southern Cross replica to Jamestown, 209 kilometres north of Adelaide, for the official opening of the Sir Hubert Wilkins aerodrome. It was a weekend of speeches, flying, good food and an amazing spirit of adventure. Dick Smith arrived in his Citation jet with Nancy Bird Walton and both took part in the official opening of the airport and visitor centre. But still the Wilkins question niggled away in the backs of our minds.

I cannot say that I have ever felt strongly that I am related to Sir Hubert, even after all these years of family discussions. But just reading the history of his adventures, seeing the footage and photos, and absorbing the scope and diversity of his projects, interests and writings has allowed me to feel a kind of camaraderie with him, together with a deep admiration for his exploits and achievements.

As a professional sailor and adventurer who has certainly seen a tremendous amount of this world, I have found it sometimes quite difficult, on returning home, to make the acquaintance of fellow travellers and achievers — people who have gone beyond the realms of normality in life.

There is something quite different when you come into contact with such people; they don’t need to be in the same field or profession, but there is something quite unique when speaking with those who have stretched the boundaries and are comfortable with who they are and what they have done. To have an opportunity to chew the fat and share memories and moments with kindred spirits opens incredible bonds. My enthusiasm to share life’s adventures and achievements is open to all: a pleasure shared is a pleasure doubled, especially when new people can be encouraged to reach new heights.

I was born in Mount Gambier, South Australia, the youngest of four children. My father’s work as a communications engineer involved frequent relocation — by the time I was thirteen we had moved home thirteen times — and this created the foundations to what inevitably became a varied life . We spent four years in Papua and New Guinea, regularly flying in one of the world’s most hostile aviation locations in some incredible types of aircraft during those years surely injected creative passion into my veins.

Adventure in life only stops when you choose, and if you feel that adventure has never been in your life then possibly you have never been encouraged to just be a little bit different, to think a little differently and to always keep asking questions.

In my life I have navigated over 385,000 nautical miles at sea, including 14 years of high latitude and polar expeditions in both hemispheres. These were experiences which would make the hardest person turn to jelly, yet with the most incredibly close bonds that I have made with this planet and its creatures I can honestly say that I am a most humble and appreciative adventurer.

Once there was Sir Hubert Wilkins, the famous explorer.  Today there is another Wilkins, and while I am different from Sir Hubert, I share with him the desire to dare to be different, and the determination to succeed in that aim.

Stephen Wilkins

September 2021