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Frederick Smithies (1885–1979)

by Ann G. Smith

This article was published:

Frederick Smithies (1885-1979), bushwalker and photographer, was born on 16 August 1885 at Ulverstone, Tasmania, son of Wesley Witt Smithies, police clerk, and his wife Selina, née Huxtable. Through his mother he was a descendant of David Collins. As a boy Smithies lived at Beltana (Lindisfarne), near Hobart. In 1902 he joined the South British Insurance Co. at Launceston as a clerk and in 1912 he became manager of the Launceston branch of the Atlas Assurance Co., retiring fifty years later. He also conducted the Tasmanian Finance & Agency Co.

When young, Smithies was a member of the Tamar lacrosse team and reputedly a cricketer and rower. But it was through bushwalking that he made his name. He later recollected that, denied the opportunity of world travel, he had determined to explore his own State. In 1924 with Bill King he made a remarkable motorbike trip from Waratah to Zeehan via Corinna and in 1926 he backpacked from Adamsfield via the valley of Rasselas over the Spires Range to the highest point on the Prince of Wales Range. In 1931 with Cliff Bradshaw he made the first successful ascent of Frenchman's Cap in fourteen years and next year they walked through 'trackless and practically uncharted country' from Queenstown to Cradle Mountain via the Eldon Range and Canning Gorge. A close friend of Gustav Weindorfer, he thoroughly traversed the Cradle Mountain district, making the first winter ascent of the mountain in 1924 with Weindorfer and Charles Monds and the 'skyline tour' in 1936. He was also an intrepid motorist, driving his 'A' model Ford in 1932 from Derwent Bridge to Queenstown and later, before a road was surveyed, from Great Lake to Bronte.

Smithies publicized the Tasmanian wilderness and promoted the establishment of reserves through talks, broadcasts, written accounts and photographs. Highly rated as a photographer, he hand-coloured his own lantern slides, took stereoscopic pictures and was an early user of 16mm motion picture film and of the waistcoat (a form of candid) camera. From the 1920s he gave lantern lectures in various States on behalf of the Tasmanian government to encourage tourism; in 1935 he organized the Tasmanian display at the Melbourne Centenary Exhibition.

Treasurer of the Launceston Art Society in 1912-72, member of the Northern Tasmanian Camera Club and the Stereoscopic Society, Smithies helped to form the Northern Tasmanian Alpine Club in 1929 and was later patron of the Launceston Walking Club. He also belonged to the Royal Society of Tasmania, Tasmanian Club, 50,000 League, Young Men's Christian Association and the National Trust (Tasmanian branch). He was a justice of the peace from 1942. Chairman of the Scenery Preservation Board (1941-71) and member of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair, Barrow Reserve and Northern Scenery boards, he was appointed O.B.E. in 1946.

Smithies married Ida Isobel Heyward (d.1928) at New Town with Methodist forms on 3 April 1912. On 8 October 1930 at St Mary's Church of England, Hagley, he married a nurse, Florence Jean Perrin: from the 1950s they lived and ran cattle at St Leonards.

A persevering man, a great yarn-teller, Smithies gave up carrying heavy packs in his late seventies, abandoned driving when 88 and at 92 deposited his photographic collection in the Archives Office of Tasmania. He died at Launceston on 13 October 1979. His wife and their two sons and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. G. Branagan, Frederick Smithies, O.B.E. (Launc, 1985)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 12, 18 Jan 1978, 15 Oct 1979.

Citation details

Ann G. Smith, 'Smithies, Frederick (1885–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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