Sir George Hubert Wilkins, one of Australia’s most adventurous yet least known explorers, is finally enjoying a moment in the spotlight.
The popularity of recent biographies by Simon Nash and Peter FitzSimons has garnered Wilkins some belated attention. Gathering photographs and film footage from Wilkins’ extraordinary career, The Eye of Wilkins provides a rich and fascinating visual supplement to the published biographies.
The life of Wilkins is truly incredible. Arctic and Antarctic explorer, naturalist, war photographer, filmmaker, pioneering aviator and submariner – one of the most amazing aspects of his international career is how unrecognised he is in his home nation.
Born in Mount Bryan in mid-north South Australia, Wilkins roamed the globe, chronicling the people and species of this planet with an exceptionally aesthetic eye.
The Eye of Wilkins honours the life and work of this remarkable South Australian by collating Wilkins’ photographs and film footage into a visual showcase of his career.
His photographs from the frontlines and trenches of World War I are harrowing. He was the first person to fly across the Arctic Ocean, the first to fly in the Antarctic and the first to fly from America to Europe across the Arctic. Wilkins was present on the final Antarctic voyage of Ernest Shackleton, filming the great man’s last days and his burial in South Georgia.
Yet existing in the same skin as this pioneering explorer was a visual artist, who recorded the beauties and horrors of the world with an aesthetic eye. He photographed the lives of Arctic Inuit, Indigenous Australians, and Russians in the aftermath of WWI. He also took the first ever film of battle and the first moving images from an aircraft.
Written, directed and narrated by local documentarian Peter Maddern, The Eye of Wilkins packs an entire biography into just over an hour, the dense writing and rapid narration doing its best to honour a man who crammed several lifetimes of adventure into his 70 years.
The true beauty of this documentary lies in Wilkins’ extraordinary photographs and film footage. Readers of the biographies will revel in the extra level of appreciation this documentary provides to his remarkable career. More than an explorer, Wilkins was an artist, as this documentary so beautifully testifies.
The Eye of Wilkins is screening at the Capri Theatre on March 13 and is available on demand to watch from home during the Adelaide Fringe. A stage work, The Wilkins Trilogy – Part 1, is showing at Goodwood Theatres and Studios from March 3-6.
Read more 2022 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews here.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.