Olegas Truchanas was a Lithuanian-Australian photographer and conservationist. His photographs helped raise public awareness of the importance of Tasmania’s south-west.
Truchanas was born on 22 September 1923 in Šiauliai, Lithuania.
After Lithuania fell to the USSR in 1945, Truchanas fled to Germany. He enrolled in a law degree at the University of Munich, but was sent to a displaced-persons camp before he could begin studying.
Arrival in Tasmania
Truchanas eventually migrated to Australia, arriving in Tasmania in February 1949.
He worked as a manual labourer for the Electrolytic Zinc Company of Australasia in Risdon before joining the Hydro-Electric Commission as a meter-reader. He became an engineering clerk in 1953, and worked in statistical analysis until 1971.
Excursions into the south-west
Truchanas became deeply attracted to Tasmania’s wilderness areas, and went on many solitary excursions into the south-west.
In 1952, he reached the top of Federation Peak without support. In December 1954, he became the first person to travel from Lake Pedder to Macquarie Harbour via the Serpentine and Gordon Rivers. He did so in a self-designed kayak.
On 21 January 1956, Truchanas married clerical typist Melva Janet Stocks in Launceston.
Truchanas possessed considerable artistic talents, which he expressed by photographing the wilderness areas he visited. Some of his photographs won many national and international prizes.
Truchanas’ collection of photographs was destroyed when his house burnt down in the 1967 bushfires. He immediately set about replacing the lost photos, however. That process continued throughout his life and eventually contributed to his untimely death.
Hydro-electric development in the south-west
In October 1963, the state government decided that the south-west was to be opened up to hydro-electric development. In 1965, then-premier Eric Reece announced that Lake Pedder National Park would be subjected to modifications.
Truchanas, a conservationist, gave a series of lectures throughout Tasmania, aimed at publicising the environmental losses that would follow the flooding of the lake. By doing so, he placed himself in a difficult position with the Hydro-Electric Commission, but managed to keep his job.
The objections of Truchanas and other conservationists were ignored, and the development went ahead as planned.
The preservation of Huon pine
When Huon pine was threatened with extinction by logging, Truchanas campaigned for its preservation. One thousand acres (405 hectares) of Huon pine forest on the Denison River were eventually gazetted for protection under the Scenery Preservation Act of 1915.
Death and Legacy
Truchanas resigned from the Hydro-Electric Commission at the end of 1971. He then visited ‘The Splits’ on the Gordon River, a place he’d previously navigated and photographed. He was trying to retrieve his canoe on 6 January 1972 when he slipped on some wet rocks and disappeared.
His body was found three days later. He was cremated, and his ashes were spread over Lake Pedder.
He was survived by his wife Melva and their three children. His family continue to defend his legacy.
Artist Max Angus once described Truchanas as:
“our chief guide and conscience in times of threat to our national environment, and prime source of revelation of the grandeur of our wilderness through the mastery of his camera.”
Angus included a selection of Truchanas’ best photographs in his 1975 book The World of Olegas Truchanas.
Mount Truchanas in Western Australia and the Truchanas Huon Pine Forest were (obviously) named after Truchanas.
The Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston acquired some of his photographs in 1998. The National Museum of Australia has his canvas-covered canoe in its collection.
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Spirit of Olegas – A Big Country (ABC)
Below is a 30-minute documentary about Truchanas.
TASMANIAN TIMES: Don’t Misquote Truchanas & Dombrovskis.
TASMANIAN TIMES: Paddle for Pedder Raises Banner over Original Beach.