Australia is starting to wake up to the unbelievably remarkable life of explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins, who grew up on a drought-ridden outback farm.
Story By Ian Glover
The simple stone homestead stands on a bare bluff, buffeted by bitter gale-force winds. Almost treeless, the whisker-stubbled paddocks stretch clean away to the horizon, over hills that rise like a cemetery full of fresh graves. All this is unremarkable in the Mount Bryan region of South Australia, except for one salient fact. The farmhouse was home to young George Hubert Wilkins.
Born on October 31, 1888, this Australian was a remarkable man – an aviator, explorer, photographer and meteorologist. A knight who remains in obscurity in his homeland because he spent most of his life overseas.
Times were hard when Wilkins was growing up. The youngest of 13 children, he watched as his father’s farming efforts on “Netfield” were continually thwarted by years of drought – a situation that prompted a lifelong interest in meteorology and later, the conviction that long-range weather forecasting (made possible by establishing weather stations at the Poles) was the answer to the problem.
When, in 1905, his family finally succumbed to the reality of living on the wrong side of the Goyder Line – a geographic boundary segregating viable agricultural land from futile hope – Wilkins took up engineering studies at the Adelaide School of Mines. But he never finished his degree, becoming fascinated by the new black (and white) art of cinematography instead, and by 1909, after stowing away on a freighter from Port Adelaide, he was working in Sydney as a newsreel cameraman. Henceforth, his life took on a surreal quality with exploits that made a ripping yarn, straight out of Boys’ Own Annual. Compared to Wilkins, Biggles was a cream puff.
This story excerpt is from Issue #61
Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2008