Lake Pedder Restoration members and friends of Lake Pedder are mourning Les Southwell, who passed away whilst bushwalking in Victoria’s high country on Saturday 16 September, aged 88.
Some thoughts and memories from Lake Pedder Restoration members:
I believe Les Southwell’s book The Mountains of Paradise: The wilderness of South-West Tasmania was the best comprehensive book on Lake Pedder at the time of its publication (1983) – or possibly since, with statements of alternative engineering possibilities drawn from Les’ engineering knowledge, and his superb photography.
Being a VERY determined person, Les self-published and self-distributed and so the book didn’t go into as many corners as it might have, where it could have educated more fence-sitters and decision makers. Les was a member of the Pedder 2000 Victorian Branch for some years.
We should acknowledge this remarkable man.
Annabelle Richards and I talked of Les and his dedication to the Melbourne Pedder group since 1995. Les hosted meetings at his home and visited us at the Pedder office in Hobart when on his annual bushwalks to Tasmania.
I remember him as quiet, self-sufficient, intelligent; and passionate about our wilderness.
My first memory of Les was seeing this figure standing for hour after hour in knee deep water at Lake Pedder — hence his great photographs in The Mountains of Paradise.
His contribution was huge … those glorious photos, the early book on the South-West and his constant campaigning on Pedder and keeping the vision alive in Melbourne till TWS formed.
Les was a great soul. I enjoyed the chats we shared and would notice the twinkle in his eyes when he spoke about the beauty of the South West.
A media statement from The Wilderness Society follows:
MEDIA STATEMENT – 19 September 2017
RENOWNED WILDERNESS MAN, LES SOUTHWELL, DIES AGED 88.
Les Southwell, a towering figure of last century wilderness travel and photography in Tasmania and Victoria, has been found dead in the Victorian alps. He had been separated from companions and was sitting outside his tent near snowy Mt Bogong when he died, aged 88.
“Les Southwell, a Melbourne engineer, was one of the most remarkable wilderness walkers in Tasmania in the high age of wild country adventure last century. He first came to Tasmania in the early 1960s and, via the original Lake Pedder, walked to Federation Peak, the most remote mountain in Australia. Subsequently, in scores more trips, he bush bashed into other remote places including Pokana Cirque, Lake Curley, the Denison Range and the Gordon Splits,” former Greens leader Bob Brown said in Hobart today. “Les was a vigorous advocate for saving the Franklin and Gordon rivers from damming.”
“Les Southwell’s 1983 book ‘The Mountains of Paradise: the Wilderness of South-west Tasmania’ is a classic of Australian wilderness photography. His depictions of Lake Pedder National Park are now national treasures. Until the end, Les was a crusty advocate for restoring Lake Pedder,” Bob Brown said.
Victorian environmentalist Karen Alexander OA said that “Les had a very long dedication to conservation, from the Lake Pedder campaign to Fraser Island, the subject of his first book, and the Franklin. He saw the value of photography to convey the good message about wild places, like Peter Dombrovskis and Olegas Truchanas who also died in the wild. Les kept the campaign for Tasmania’s South-west wilderness alive in Melbourne after the loss of Lake Pedder, paving the way for saving the Franklin. As a civil engineer, Les had argued strongly for alternative solutions to the flooding of Lake Pedder.”
“Half a century ago Les observed that for Tasmanian politicians ‘the idea of the wilderness experience seemed incomprehensible and they often seemed hostile to the very notion’. Nowadays wilderness is arguably Tasmania’s greatest tourism drawcard, thanks to advocates like Les Southwell,” Bob Brown said.
The Wilderness Society paid tribute to Les, describing him one of the vanguard in Australian wilderness photography. “Images of Lake Pedder and other spectacular wild places still stand as technical masterpieces and continue to serve as inspiration to both photographers and wilderness campaigners alike,” said Society spokesperson and Tasmanian Campaign Manager Vica Bayley.
Photos of an impromptu memorial to Les at Red Knoll lookout near the Scotts Peak dam are at Dr Helen Tyzack’s Tasmanian Discoveries web site.