Focus: photography and war 1945–2006
Hubert Wilkins (1888-1958)
The third photographer appointed as an official Australian war photographer during the First World War was the charismatic young South Australian explorer, cinematographer, and reporter Hubert Wilkins. Before his appointment in August 1917, Wilkins had spent three years photographing the final Arctic expedition of Canadian explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson. He had earlier covered the First Balkan War for Britain’s Daily Chronicle newspaper, where he became the first person to take film footage of combat, and made use of the aeroplane as a means of gathering photographic intelligence.
In May 1917, he enlisted with the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) in Melbourne, intending to become a pilot. But in late July, two weeks after he arrived in London, a medical inspection showed him to be colour-blind and thus unfit for active aerial service. Instead he was transferred to the Australian War Records Section and, as the designated “record” photographer, sailed with Frank Hurley to France on the Princess Victoria.
Wilkins became famous for his bravery and recklessness on the battlefield, where he went to great lengths to secure records of the service of Australian soldiers. He was awarded two Military Crosses for his service, and produced some of the most important images of the Western Front, where he spent over two years. In 1919, he travelled to Gallipoli with Charles Bean to photograph the battlegrounds over which Australians had fought during 1915.