action-story | 13th Jun, 2017

Les Smith

Les Smith is one of Environment Victoria’s longest serving members and has been involved in conservation for over 50 years. He is still a a regular volunteer at Environment Victoria and works tirelessly to preserve bush remnants in Whitehorse.

Les first started working to protect the environment in England in the late 1940’s following the second world war. During the war, public rights of way had been closed to make land available for agriculture and Les was part of a group working to open them up again.

“Legally, after seven years [a right of way] stops being a right of way. So [we] went out at weekends [and cut] the fences which closed the paths. [The government weren’t] particularly worried but the farmers weren’t very enthusiastic.”

Les’s love of the environment followed him to his new home in Australia, where he was a part of a watershed moment in Victoria’s environment movement: the fight to save the Little Desert in 1969. The event led to the formation of what is now Environment Victoria and changed the way people viewed conservation in the state, for good — On 12 June 2017 Les received an honorary Medal of the Order of Australia for his service to our environment.

“There’d really been no interest in conservation and suddenly [there were] whole pages of letters in The Age about it from just ordinary people culminating in a massive protest meeting at the St Kilda Palais.”

“Recently, there was a demonstration up in the hills near Marysville on logging catchments. And I wondered how we could get the general population more active in these present issues. And I thought it would be nice if we could find out how it was that people got so wild about the Little Desert.”

But Les says that on the whole attitudes to conservation and the environment have changed for the better over the past 50 years. “Many more people are positive about it. I think originally [conservation] was much more related to preserving bush and not necessarily worrying about what was in it. Now it’s much more about making it what it was before Europeans arrived. And there’s plenty of knowledge around now as to how it was. Even government departments now work in that direction.”

Les says it’s important that people make time for the environment in their busy lives. “I’ve been retired for a long time now and people who are working seem to be much busier than I used to be. But you really need to make time for these things.”

“I have eight grandchildren – three of them are 18. And before the [2006] state election, one of them… said to me, are you going to any demonstrations soon. And I said, well there’s the walk on warming. And she said, can I come? She bought a dozen friends a long and they are continuing to be involved.”

“There’s more and more compelling evidence that climate change could mean disaster for the world. The message to push is that this disaster can be avoided if we act now.”

Join Les in building a cleaner, healthier future

No matter what your skills or capacity, there's a way for you to get involved!