Vale: Les Southwell photographer, bushwalker and environmentalist

Vale: Les Southwell photographer, bushwalker and environmentalist


We are sad to note the death of Les Southwell an ardent environmental campaigner and photographer.

His body was found outside his tent on Victoria’s highest peak Mount Bogong in the Alpine National Park on Sunday 17 September. Les was 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,” former Greens leader Bob Brown said.

“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.

“Consequently, in scores more trips, he bush-bashed into other remote places including Pokana Cirque, Lake Curley, the Denison Range and Gordon Splits.

“Les was a vigorous advocate for saving the Franklin and Gordon rivers from damming.”

His 1983 book, The Mountains of Paradise: the Wilderness of Southwest Tasmania, is regarded as 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,” Dr Brown said.

Victorian environmentalist Karen Alexander, OA, said Mr Southwell was dedicated to conservation — from the Lake Pedder campaign to Fraser Island 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,” Ms Alexander said.

“Les kept the campaign for Tasmania’s Southwest 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’.”

Dr Brown said the wilderness was now arguably Tasmania’s greatest tourism drawcard.

“That is thanks to advocates like Les Southwell,” he said.

The Wilderness Society has also paid tribute to Mr Southwell, describing him as 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,” society spokesman Vica Bayley said.


The Mercury 19/9/2017

The Age 18/9/2017


Incredible Fraser Island published 1975

Mountains of Paradise published 1983


Main photograph: Sand Patterns, Lake Pedder by Les Southwell.


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This article was written by
David Tatnall

David Tatnall is a Melbourne based fine art photographer.

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