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Truchanas, Olegas (1923–1972)

by Dan Sprod

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Olegas Truchanas (1923-1972), wilderness photographer and conservationist, was born on 22 September 1923 at Siauliai, Lithuania, son of Eduard Truchan, civil servant, and his wife Tatjana, née Bronovickaja-Baronenko. During World War II Oleg was active in the Lithuanian resistance. He went to Germany in 1944, and began law studies at the University of Munich. After the university closed temporarily in May 1945 he moved to the Baltic displaced persons camp at Garmisch. On 23 February 1949 he arrived in Melbourne in the Nea Hellas. Sent initially to the Bonegilla migrant reception centre in Victoria, he chose to go to Tasmania where he was assigned to manual labour for the Electrolytic Zinc Co. of Australasia Ltd, Risdon. In 1951 he joined the Hydro-Electric Commission, Hobart, as a meter-reader. Becoming an engineering clerk two years later, he was to work in the area of statistical analysis until 1971.

Deeply attracted to Tasmania's wilderness areas, Truchanas undertook many solitary excursions, on foot and by canoe, into the island's south-west. Black and white and, later, colour photography became the medium through which he expressed his considerable artistic talents; he won prizes in overseas and Australian competitions. In 1952, climbing alone and without support, he reached the summit of Federation Peak. Twice, in December 1954 and February 1958, he travelled down the Serpentine and Gordon rivers from Lake Pedder to Macquarie Harbour in a self-designed kayak, a feat never before accomplished. On 21 January 1956 at Chalmers Church, Launceston, he married with Presbyterian forms Melva Janet Stocks, a clerical typist.

In October 1963 the Tasmanian government decided that the State's south-west was to be opened up to hydro-electric development. The fears of conservationists were realized in 1965 when the premier Eric Reece announced that there would be 'some modification of Lake Pedder National Park', and that the water level of the lake would be raised. Truchanas, placing himself in a difficult position with his employer, gave a series of audio-visual lectures in the Hobart Town Hall and elsewhere in Tasmania, aimed at publicizing the environmental losses that would follow the flooding of the lake. The project went ahead despite the protests. In February 1967 Truchanas's collection of photographs was burnt in the Hobart bushfires that destroyed his home; he immediately set about replacing the lost pictures.

From 1961 Truchanas was a leader and instructor at adventure camps run by the National Fitness Council of Tasmania. A founding member (1968) of the Tasmanian Conservation Trust, he campaigned with other members for the preservation of the Huon pine, which was threatened with extinction by logging; on 5 August 1970 one thousand acres (405 ha) of Huon pine forest on the Denison River were gazetted for protection under the Scenery Preservation Act (1915). In 1971 Truchanas was elected to the council of the Australian Conservation Foundation. At the end of that year he resigned from the H.E.C. and set out to re-visit 'The Splits' on the Gordon River, which he had previously navigated and photographed. On 6 January 1972, while attempting to retrieve his canoe, he slipped on wet rocks and disappeared. His body was found three days later, wedged against a submerged tree. After cremation, his ashes were spread over Lake Pedder. He was survived by his wife, and their two daughters and son.

The artist Max Angus said in a tribute that Truchanas's 'physical, mental and spiritual powers, his passionate love for this island, combined to make him . . . 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'. He included a selection of Truchanas's best photographs in his book The World of Olegas Truchanas (1975). Mount Truchanas, in the Hamersley Range, Western Australia (1975) and the Truchanas Huon Pine Forest (1990), were named after the conservationist. In 1998 the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, acquired a collection of his photographs; the National Museum of Australia holds a canvas-covered canoe made by him.

Select Bibliography

  • Tasmanian Tramp, no 24, 1982-83
  • Mercury (Hobart), 10, 12-14, 17 Jan 1972
  • immigration file, A11925, item 1105 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Dan Sprod, 'Truchanas, Olegas (1923–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/truchanas-olegas-11882/text21275, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 17 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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