Peter Dombrovskis’ canoe – seeking the unknowable

No. 68

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The canoe was made in the mid to late 1960s by Lithuanian-born Olegas Truchanas and his protégé, Peter Dombrovskis. Truchanas, a noted explorer, conservationist and photographer of south-west Tasmania, ran adventure camps to encourage young Tasmanians to explore the wilderness – thereby allowing them to achieve personal development, learn survival skills and a love of the environment and achieve personal development. Dombrovskis attended these as a teenager and subsequently followed in his mentor’s footsteps as an outstanding wilderness photographer.

Dombrovskis was born in 1945 in a refugee camp in Germany, emigrating to Australia with his Lithuanian mother in 1950. As a young boy, he would walk the slopes of Hobart’s Mount Wellington with her; their walks (and his future endeavours) were perhaps partly influenced by the importance of the forest in Lithuanian history and mythology.

Truchanas had used canoes in his epic explorations of little-known rivers of western Tasmania. Dombrovskis did the same, also exploring wild rivers and learning the art of photography, river navigation, and bush survival. The skills that Dombrovskis learnt in canoes such as this one led to his solo journeys down the Franklin and Gordon Rivers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, resulting in the photographs that became instrumental in the campaign to prevent the Gordon-below-Franklin dam in 1980–83.

Dombrovskis went on to forge a successful career as a wilderness photographer, producing an annual (and much-anticipated) calendar, posters, greeting cards and postcards. He died while on a photographic expedition in the Western Arthur range in south-west Tasmania in 1996, aged just 51. In 2003, Dombrovskis became the first Australian to be inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame.

Whilst only a handful of people, the story of these two men exemplify the impact of post war immigration on Tasmanian society and politics.

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