My book pedder dreaming retells the story of Olegas Truchanas, a Lithuanian born in 1923 who emigrated to Tasmania after World War II, after fighting with the Lithuanian resistance and spending time in displaced persons’ camps in Allied-occupied Germany. From the 1950s Olegas photographed Tasmania’s remote south-west wilderness, frequently travelling solo and risking his life in order to do so. He also met and married a Tasmanian, Melva, and together they built a house and had three children.
Through his photography, Olegas established a salon-style connection with a circle of Tasmanian photographers and watercolour painters, known as the Sunday Group, with whom he worked to save a remote glacial lake with pale pink sands – Lake Pedder – from inundation by a hydro-electric scheme. This was Australia’s first globally noticed environmental battle, and later produced the world’s first greens party. The campaign failed and the lake was lost. Soon after, in early 1972, Olegas drowned on a photographic expedition to one of Tasmania’s wildest rivers.
The story is told in three parts – the incorruptible man, salon south, and pedder dreaming – reflecting Olegas’s remarkable twentieth-century journey from European refugee to Tasmanian legend.
The book features reproductions of photographs by Olegas, including previously unpublished images from an audiovisual show he famously used in efforts to save Lake Pedder. Paintings and photographs by key members of the Sunday Group are also reproduced, mainly sourced from private collections.
My storytelling moves back and forth between the past and the present, encouraging deeper reflection on the values underpinning the art and activism of Olegas and his friends.
My book also points towards potential resolution of the bitter splits in Tasmanian society that underpin ongoing and destructive battles about our environment, economy and identity.
pedder dreaming is told from my perspective as a ‘returned’ Tasmanian – with many generations of lived connection to this island, as well as first-hand experience of the challenges and compromises facing post-World War II European immigrants.
The book took around five years to research and write. I returned to Tasmania from Sydney to undertake this work – the light and latitude there were simply ‘wrong’ for this project.
Themes and suggested topics for discussion include: refugees and immigrants, culture, multiculturalism, civil society, politics, Tasmania, wilderness photography, landscape painting & creativity.
There is relatively little published information about Olegas Truchanas. Therefore the book draws heavily on personal interviews I conducted with people in Tasmania who knew and remember Olegas. These included his widow Melva, who gave permission for me to publish a selection of family photographs and photographic works by Olegas, and his Lithuanian-born sister Nina Kantvilas. Surviving Sunday Group painters Max Angus, Elspeth Vaughan and Patricia Giles also cooperated generously with the project, as did a range of prominent personalities in Tasmanian cultural and political life.
The first person I interviewed was Max Angus, who wrote an important biographical essay about Olegas for a book called The World of Olegas Truchanas after his friend’s death, almost forty years ago. Max literally opened the door to the story in pedder dreaming, which revealed itself to me in frequently surprising ways as time went on.
Fragments of information and impressions soon began clustering together, and connections between apparently disparate events and individuals also emerged. Secrets opened and closed like anemones in a rockpool. I began to wonder – is all this typical of Tasmania, and Tasmanian stories? This Tasmanian story only fully revealed itself to me when committed to the page, and when my words were matched with the perfect, painterly design delivered by the book’s designers.
To me, the final product is a special cultural artefact. The book in turn curates and interprets a collection of Tasmanian cultural artefacts that have never been presented together – memories, photographs, paintings, places and personalities.
Natasha Cica 2011