Sir Hubert Wilkins
"In practically any other country other than Australia, his birthplace would be a national shrine. But here, many people don't even know that it exists. Well, we're going to change that."
Dick Smith, Founder and Chairman, Australian Geographic Society.
Sir Hubert Wilkins was an amazing adventurer, yet unfortunately, most Australians and more importantly, residents of Goyder know little of his incredible life. Sir Hubert Wilkins was born in 1888 just east of Hallett, in a humble outback cottage. His thirst for excitement and knowledge led him to enjoy a life rich with wondrous experiences.
He first travelled overseas in 1908, to follow his passion for the developing craft of cinematography. It was Sir Hubert who is recognised as capturing the first ever combat on film, when in 1912, at 24 years of age he filmed battles during the Balkans War. The following year he made his first Arctic expedition. This this would prove to be the first of many, with his fascination for polar adventure keeping him abroad most of his life.
With the outbreak of war, Sir Hubert returned to Australia in 1916 to join the armed forces, where he was appointed an official photographer for the Australian Flying Corps. His coverage of Western Front battles resulted in his being awarded a Military Cross and Bar, for Bravery.
Following the War, Sir Hubert entered the England to Australia air race but crashed in Crete. The next few years took him back to the Antarctic, as a photographer and naturalist on several expeditions. His increasing reputation as an adventurer and naturalist, led him to return to Australia from 1923-25 to lead the British Museum's northern Australia natural history expedition.
1926 saw Sir Hubert making experimental flights in the Arctic region, until 1928 when he made the first ever trans-Arctic flight from Alaska to Spitzbergen (3350km) in 205 hours. He was subsequently knighted as a result. His achievements that year continued, with him completing the first Antarctic flight.
In 1929, Sir Hubert became the first and probably only Australian to circumnavigate Earth by airship, when he completed a 22 day round-the-world journey in the airship Graf Zeppelin. He also found time for personal pursuits. In 1930 he married Australian actress and singer, Suzanne Bennett.
In 1931, Sir Hubert was off on yet another adventure. He made the first ever under-ice voyage by submarine, navigating the Nautilus (which he bought from the US Navy for $1), under the Arctic Ocean to the North Pole. This attempt was doomed to fail, and many people thought he was crazy to even attempt such a journey. However, it was his daring and imagination through his pioneering efforts that allowed the "Nautilus II" to complete the expedition in 1958.
Sir Hubert's fascination with the polar region continued as he managed Lincoln Ellworth's Antarctic expeditions from 1933-1939, reaffirming some Australian Antarctic Territory claims. During this time he also became involved in the search for Soviet aviator Sigismund Levanevsky, who had disappeared over the Arctic Ocean.
With the onset of WWII, Sir Hubert was appointed as a consultant to the US Army military planning division from 1942-52. This included a mission for the Secret Service which took him to Singapore, up the Burma Road and to China. Upon his return he became the Arctic Consultant to the Quartermaster-General and Geographer to the research and development command of the US Army, a position which he retained until his death in 1958. Prior to his death he returned on his last visit to his birthplace near Hallett.
During his long and distinguished career, Sir Hubert received many honours including his knighthood, and full recognition from the most important geographical and scientific societies for his work in the field of geography, climatology and meteorology. His life was full of courage, imagination and an intense sense of purpose. In 1959 he settled in his final resting place, with the ashes of this great explorer, scientist, naturalist, meteorologist and finally researcher, being scattered in the Arctic Ocean at the North Pole.
Sir Hubert Wilkins Memorial
The Regional Council of Goyder and the Australian Geographic Society felt that it was fitting that they honour such a great Australian. To this end, with financial support and inspiration from Mr. Dick Smith, the assistance of National Trust and the dedication and hard work of the Sir Hubert Wilkins Memorial Trust Committee (an all-volunteer body of interested people), the cottage of Sir Hubert's birthplace has been restored to its original condition. The project took many hours to complete but the Committee wanted to ensure a fitting memorial to an nearly unknown Australian legend. The homestead is located at Mount Bryan East. Visit at your leisure by collecting the key from the Mount Bryan Hotel. A daylight visit is recommended as there is no power at the homestead.
For further information contact the Mount Bryan Hotel: 08 8893 4010.