The Eye Of Wilkins

The Eye Of Wilkins Adelaide Fringe 2021★★★★

Palmerston Projects Pty Ltd. Star Theatres – Theatre One. 12 Mar 2021


Shame on you if you never heard of Sir George Hubert Wilkins. He was one of the world’s greatest explorers, a pioneer pilot of air exploration, the first to travel under polar ice in a submarine, way ahead of his time on global meteorology, a keen recorder of scientific data, and as the title suggests, a moving image and still photographer, particularly of the polar icescape, Aborigines and Innuits, and the Western Front. He should have died many times over. Like Forrest Gump, he seemed to be at the right place at the right time for great events. Wilkins was on the 1921/22 Shackleton-Rowett Expedition to the Southern Ocean on which Shackleton died, and he photographed King George V knighting Sir John Monash on the battlefield. Monash said of him, “[Wilkins] was a highly accomplished and absolutely fearless combat photographer. What happened to him is a story of epic proportions. Wounded many times ... he always came through. At times he brought in the wounded, at other times he supplied vital intelligence of enemy activity he observed. At one point he even rallied troops as a combat officer ... His record was unique." More often, he was creating the great events with many world firsts. And he was born near Hallett in 1888, the last of 13 children, on a property on the wrong side of the Goyder Line. His birth house is still there, recently restored by aviator Dick Smith, and a great visit.

Adelaide’s Peter Maddern is a Wilkins tragic - as many people familiar with his story are - and he lovingly spent two-and-a-half years researching and creating this documentary comprising stills of Wilkins in action but mostly Wilkins’s own film and still photography. He takes us chronologically and faithfully along on Wilkins’s adventures including the Caribbean, war zones, Arctic and Antarctic ice and aviation, Stalinist starvation in Russia, and a 1923/24 survey for the British Museum of bird life in northern Australia. Regarding the latter, his intimacy with the Aborigines and criticism of Australian authorities for their plight and for environmental degradation earned him the disapprobation that has thwarted his recognition in this country, even though the US Navy thought so highly of him that they scattered his ashes at the North Pole, and returned to do the same for his wife a few years later.

Maddern self-admits that he is not a professional documentary film-maker but this is a bloody excellent effort, utilising the Ken Burns effect, his own narration, background scores and voiceovers of Wilkins’s quotes (although his Wilkins voice is decidedly too immature).


Don’t let the weird poster picture of a seaplane superimposed on Wilkins’s face put you off. This is a great film for the fans and the buffs of great biography. Bravo!


David Grybowski


When: 12 to 21 Mar

Where: Star Theatres – Star Theatre One