State Library of South Australia

News from the Friends

Date: 28 November 2016

Unique gift and homewares from the Friends

The Friends of the State Library of South Australia have created an online shop of gift items and homewares using some of the beautiful images from their publications. These are unique pieces and make ideal gifts, especially for overseas relatives and friends. Items range from cushions and clothing to ipad skins, journals, notebooks, mugs, tote bags, and more.

To see the full range of items visit the online shop.

Cushion design created by Stephen Bowers after late 18th century water-colour and block prints of fleurs tropicales et palmiers for toile de Jouy
Cushion – design created by Stephen Bowers after late 18th century water-colour and block prints of fleurs tropicales et palmiers for toile de Jouy

Latest publication Undiscovered Australia

By Kerrie Round, Committee member Australiana Publications

The latest facsimile to be produced by the Friends is Undiscovered Australia. Being an account of an expedition to tropical Australia to collect specimens of the rarer native fauna for the British Museum 1923-1925 by Captain Sir G.H. Wilkins describing his scientific expedition through northern Australia. Warmly welcomed in Brisbane in April 1923 at the expedition's commencement, by the end Wilkins had become persona non grata in his homeland. His reporting of particular events earned him no favour with politicians and government authorities, who did not want the poor conditions and the treatment of the Aboriginal people to be revealed.

Cover of Undiscovered Australia by Captain Sir G.H. Wilkins
Cover of Undiscovered Australia by Captain Sir G.H. Wilkins

Explorer, geographer, cinematographer, photographer, war hero, naturalist and climatologist, Sir Hubert Wilkins was many things to many people. Born in 1888 at Mount Bryan in South Australia, his interest in natural history was derived from the Aboriginal people he associated with during his boyhood on his family's farm. This interest was honed during his time with Vilhjalmur Stefansson's Canadian Arctic Expedition (1913-18). His bird and mammal collections resulting from this expedition are now housed in the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa.

After distinguished service as a photographer with the Australian forces on the Western Front and then with C.E.W. Bean on a tour of the Gallipoli battlefields, Wilkins was appointed second-in-command of the British Imperial Antarctic Expedition (1919-20). He then joined the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition (1921-22) to circumnavigate Antarctica. In this expedition he further honed his natural history skills, spending six weeks collecting specimens and photographing wildlife on South Georgia Island.

Wilkins' growing reputation as a naturalist led the British Museum to ask him to lead the Island and Australian Expedition (1923-25) into the Australian outback to collect specimens of endangered species from both sides of the Great Dividing Range. Beginning in central New South Wales, his trek was to end 4000 kilometres north at Cape York, then travel to tropical islands and the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Described by a journalist as 'a fine specimen of manhood … both tall and broad … a small beard on his strong face [adding] to his somewhat exceptional appearance', Wilkins was considered 'one of the rising young men in the scientific exploration world'. Wilkins explained that it 'had been recognised for a long time that [Australia's] rapidly dwindling fauna would give most interesting additions to zoological knowledge if closely observed'.

The expedition involved two and a half years of arduous work through drought-ravaged country. Specimens were often hard to find; land clearance, the drought and feral cats had taken their toll on the fauna. Typically Wilkins exceeded his instructions and continued on his own to observe the Aboriginal people for a further six months. This period, which produced some of the most interesting sections of the book along with a significant set of photographs, led to some of his most controversial statements.

This fascinating book records one of the last of the 'discovery era' expeditions led by one of the last great adventurers of the twentieth century. Often critical of the complacent settlers and their disregard for the land, Wilkins provides a vital account of the country and its inhabitants in the 1920s.

With three scholarly introductory essays, one by ex-State Library Collection Specialist Valerie Sitters, this volume sheds new light on this enigmatic, poorly understood Australian and offers fresh information on his far-ranging interests and amazing achievements.

It was published in early November and copies are now available through the Friends' Office or online bookshop.

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