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Wilkinson, Audrey Harold (1877–1962)

by W. P. Driscoll

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Audrey Harold Wilkinson (1877-1962), vigneron, was born on 29 July 1877 at Five Dock, Sydney, son of Frederick Albert Wilkinson (d.1883), a 'gentleman vigneron' from England, and his Adelaide-born wife Florence Mary Hindmarsh, daughter of George Milner Stephen and granddaughter of Rear Admiral Sir John Hindmarsh. Frederick had come to Pokolbin, New South Wales, about 1865 and planted the first wine grapes at Oakdale in 1866; he also selected a property (Côte d'Or) for his father and others (Mangerton, Coolalta and Maluna) for his brothers Charles, John and William respectively. The family became dominant in establishing viticulture in the Pokolbin area.

Having briefly attended West Maitland Public School and been tutored at home, at the age of 15 Audrey took charge of Oakdale and managed the property for the remainder of his life, mostly working the vineyard with his brother Garth. His activities were bound up with the affairs of his property (which combined wine production and dairying) and focused on the district rather than beyond it. In 1901 he became secretary of the Pokolbin and District Vinegrowers' Association (1901-14) which has been credited with influencing the passage of the first effective Wine Adulteration Act (1902) in New South Wales. He was also active in its successor, the Pokolbin and District Agricultural Bureau, and kept the rainfall figures for Pokolbin for over half a century.

Tall and slight, with keen blue eyes and an ascetic face, Wilkinson was a lifelong teetotaller. Commissioned in the 4th Australian Light Horse Regiment in 1913, he was promoted captain of the 6th L.H.R. but did not see service overseas during World War I. He enjoyed playing tennis at home and occasionally visited Sydney. At Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle, Wilkinson married Beatrice Blomfield on 12 April 1921 with Anglican rites; they were to remain childless. For much of their married life she helped to run the vineyard and did office work, but by 1949 was almost entirely bedridden.

Courteous and cultured, Wilkinson did business 'in the old reliable, trustworthy way'; his 'outlook on men and affairs also dated from other times'. Oakdale slowly declined during the lean years of the Hunter wine industry from the 1930s. Wilkinson's wine-making reputedly involved squeezing grapes into clean kerosene tins and fortifying the juice with spirits. He continued to drive his 1920 Buick. Faced with changing times, he did not adapt, preferring to spend his days writing, and attending to Beatrice. Survived by his wife, he died at Cessnock on 30 July 1962 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • M. Lake, Hunter Winemakers (Brisb, 1970)
  • Cessnock Eagle, 28 Oct 1949, 3 Aug 1962
  • W. P. Driscoll, A History of the Hunter Valley Wine Industry in the Nineteenth Century (M.A. thesis, University of Newcastle, 1970)
  • Wilkinson family papers (including A. Wilkinson, Reminiscences of the Early Days, paper read to Cessnock Historical Society, 9 Aug 1954) (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Wilkinson diaries, 1872-1961 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Pokolbin and District Vinegrowers' Assn, minute book, 1901-14 (privately held).

Citation details

W. P. Driscoll, 'Wilkinson, Audrey Harold (1877–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wilkinson-audrey-harold-9101/text16049, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 20 July 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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