Hello Hello #6 - inspiration in isolation

From the Chair:
Stephen Scammell

Dear Friends of the Foundation,

‘May you live in interesting times’: not a Confucian curse as many think, but rather an expression thought to have been minted by an English parliamentarian who added a Chinese allusion as an intensifying flourish.
Interesting times are certainly with us, yet, bunkered down as we all are, the Foundation team is pressing ahead with our program and I’m hoping the current isolation regimen might give you time to read this longish newsletter.

In the following gripping account of his own recent exploits in the Frozen North our Patron shows that the spirit of adventure is still alive and well – and so, we’re happy to report, is he.

Below also, our resident historian plots the Foundation’s course to ‘Bring Wilkins Home’ and to develop a timeline of his life, initiatives in which Friends of the Foundation are warmly invited to participate.

Over then to Harry and Stephen Carthew, but first a timely word from F Scott Fitzgerald, then quarantined in 1920 in the south of France during the Spanish Influenza pandemic:

Dearest friends,

It was a limpid dreary day, hung as in a basket from a single dull star. Outside, I perceive what may be a collection of fallen leaves tussling against a trash can. It rings like jazz to my ears.  The streets are empty. It seems as though the bulk of the city has retreated to their quarters, rightfully so. At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that he punched me in the stomach, to which I asked if he had washed his hands. He hadn’t. He is much the denier, that one. Why, he considers the virus to be just influenza. I’m curious of his sources.

The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.

You should see the square, oh, it is terrible.  I weep for the damned eventualities this future brings.  The long afternoons rolling forward slowly on the ever-slick bottomless highball.  Z says it’s no excuse to drink, but I just can’t seem to steady my hand.  In the distance, from my brooding perch, the shoreline is cloaked in a dull haze where I can discern an unremitting penance that has been heading this way for a long, long while. And yet, amongst the cracked cloudline of an evening’s cast, I focus on a single strain of light, calling me forth to believe in a better morrow.’

Pray for them indeed!

Stay negative,

From our Patron,
Dr Richard Harris SC OAM
"Unlock Your Inner Explorer! TM

In the words of the iconic Aussie rock band Boom Crash Opera, ‘These here are crazy times’! In Wilkins’s era the pandemic may have looked very different. Travel by airship, steam ship and even by air was a slow process and the spread of the virus would have been quite delayed. Perhaps Wilkins, isolated in a far-off land, would finally have emerged to a world altered in his absence. I feel as if I have just shared such an experience with Sir Hubert.
On March 6th I headed over to the Canadian Rockies to participate in an international caving expedition to further explore and research the famous (in caving circles) Castleguard Cave. At over 20km in length Castleguard is Canada’s longest cave, and due to summer flooding can only be explored in the depths of winter. To access the site the cavers must ski over 20km up the Saskatchewan Glacier then across the Castleguard meadows. From there, a team of 19 camped in the cave entrance for 12 days in temperatures as low as -26 Celsius. Daily forays into the ‘warmth’ of the cave (0-2 degrees) to film, take samples, and most importantly dive an 800m long water-filled passage in order to explore the cave on the other side. The trip was a great success but I learnt a few things about myself along the way.

I have been involved in caving expeditions from the deserts of Australia to the jungles of Vanuatu, from remote rural villages in China to the mountains of New Zealand. I thought I was pretty resilient to the hardships of sleeping rough and eating relatively poorly for extended periods. But despite our modern outdoor clothing, stoves and sleeping bags, I cannot recall suffering like I did on this trip! The cold was a constant and malignant enemy for a ‘lad’ from South Australia. The combination of constant shivering, poor appetite and vigorous exercise meant I lost 5 kg in weight (not a bad outcome). The Canadians were predictably far less affected and dealt with the conditions with relative ease.
On one miserable night in my sleeping bag I recall thinking about our hero Wilkins. I thought of him flying across the Arctic in his open cockpit, taking his mitts off to perform his celestial navigation. I considered his time on the Western font, dragging the wounded back to the lines, capturing images whilst bombs fell around him, no doubt cold, wet and miserable in ways I could not comprehend. And I thought about life in the Nautilus submarine, a contraption so primitive that simply submerging in her was a risk let alone driving its hull under the icecap in a quest to surface at the North Pole. The cold coming through her damp steel hull was almost palpable as I slept on the ice floor of the cave.
I am no Sir Hubert Wilkins, far from it. But common to Wilkins and all the team in Canada, I share a desire to find something new, something exciting. Sometimes all you find is something in yourself. On the fourth and fifth day of the Castleguard expedition I found a new low. I truly struggled. Short of sleep, short of energy and constantly cold, I could barely bring myself to emerge from my sleeping bag in the morning. Thinking of Wilkins and explorers like him helped me ‘suck it up’ and get on with the day. Conquering small challenges helped my morale enormously and within a few days I was back into it. Still cold, but back in the game!

When the team finally emerged from the cave back to the small town of Canmore, the world had changed completely. It is a very strange feeling to emerge into what feels like a post-apocalyptic community! Social distancing, lock downs, isolation; all new concepts in just 12 days.
It’s a cliché that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ but I have no doubt there is great truth to the saying. The current pandemic will, I believe, make the international community stronger. While we fight a common enemy there is less talk of war, of trade sanctions, of racism and bigotry. United, we are all making personal sacrifices for the good of the whole community. I hope mankind remembers some of the lessons when this inevitably passes. And amidst all this madness if you find yourself feeling desperate or down, struggling to get out of bed to face the day; think to yourself like I did…what would Wilkins do?
Stay safe and best wishes
Dr Richard Harris SC OAM

(Images above courtesy Harry)

From the Historian:
Dr Stephen Carthew

Dear readers,

As we come to terms with Covid-19, things still move ahead for the Wilkins Foundation – with due personal distancing, of course!

The Diaries of Wilkins

Laura Kissel, The Ohio State University’s Polar Curator for the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, has kindly agreed to digitise some of Wilkins’s diaries for us to transcribe.

So we need research-transcribers – please do help if you can. Email me or text me at 0411 518 464 if you might like to help the Foundation with transcription.

These diaries have already been digitised by Laura and her assistant: 
Undated Diary: 60 Files (Box 19 Folder 13) March 6, 2020
1911 Diary: 55 Files (Box 1.1 Folder 17) Jan 14, 2020
1912 Diary: 88 Files (Box 19 Folder 13) Feb 29, 2020
1912 Diary: 210 Files (Box 19 Folder 13) Mar 6, 2020
Red Diary (1912): 210 Files (Box 19 Folder 13) Mar 6, 2020
1920 Diary: 96(B) Files (B.M.D Scans) Mar 24, 2020
1920 Diary: 50 (C) files (C.B.D. Scans) Mar 24, 2020
1926 Diary: 19 Files Mar 24, 2020
1930 Diary: 62 Files Mar 24, 2020
1931 Diary: 19 Files Mar 24, 2020
1935 Diary: 15 Files Mar 24, 2020

I should warn you that Wilkins’s writing is far to the south of ‘not easy’. Much of it seems to have been written on a rolling ocean while juggling a cup of coffee or filming something at the same time. Sometimes only a name and address may be decipherable. He wrote for himself, often just day-to-day notes, but occasionally fascinating insights surface that add to our understanding of him – what he did and the way he thought. So far only one diary has been attempted: 

1911 Diaries

While I have transcribed these in draft format much remains to be done, and I am grateful to film historian Graham Shirley who is helping to make historical sense out of them and so piece together parts of Sydney’s early feature film industry in which Wilkins played a significant part. We are now certain that he probably left Adelaide for Europe in February or March 1912 – a year or two later than was originally thought by the early biographers. A search of early 1912 ships manifests would confirm this: anyone keen to research this?

A young Hubert behind the camera. Courtesy Ohio State University.

The Wilkins Timeline

Sponsored by the Sir Ross and Keith Smith Fund, preparation of this timeline is well underway, with contemporary newspaper reports a prime source. Many of these are linkable via Trove, and transcribed to correct the mistakes inherent in computer transcription.

If you would like to be involved in this interesting historical research project, please contact me.

The initial plan to meet regularly at the State Library with volunteers being on hold, I am placing Word articles chronologically on a Wilkins Timeline.  A companion hard copy filing system is in place too—a file for each year of Wilkins’s life (1888-1958) and one for each year since he died to record retrospective articles about him, and the dates and reviews of books which mention him. 

If you have any paper articles that you could transcribe in Word and send to me with the date and source, I would be grateful (you can also text or email a PDF or photograph of the article). Please let me know what you have before you transcribe or send it, just in case it has already been done. 

Memorial to Ruby Lindsay (1887-1919)

A fine artist and sister of Norman Lindsay, Ruby Lind was a friend of the thirty-one-year-old George Hubert Wilkins. She married cartoonist and public intellectual, Will Dyson (1880-1938), another close friend of Wilkins and a mentor to him on the Western Front in 1918.

Charles Bean concluded that there were ‘few women in the world in whom pure loveliness, goodness and brilliance were combined, and Ruby Lind was one of them’.

Vance Palmer, a War Records friend of Wilkins and Dyson said, ‘Ruby was one of those rare beings who filled all who knew her with a happy feeling that in her joy, loveliness and goodness had, by some miracle, come together on earth’. (Will Dyson: Australia’s radical genius, 2016, p. 244)

Ruby died on 12 March 1919 of the influenza pandemic that swept the world, killing somewhere between 20 and 50 million people, and affecting perhaps a billion more. 

A memorial to her, The Drawings of Ruby Lind edited by Will Dyson, was published by Cecil Palmer, London in 1920.
While available as a collectors’ item, the book can be found at a reasonable price here.

With best wishes during this difficult time.

Copyright © 2020 The Sir Hubert Wilkins Foundation, All rights reserved.

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