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Melva Truchanas - Tribute

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 1 June 2022

Tags: Condolence

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I rise to mark the passing of the closest thing the Tasmanian Greens have to royalty: our queen, the courageous, inspiring, intrepid and loving Melva Truchanas, champion of the wild places and widow of our greatest landscape photographer, Olegas Truchanas.

Melva died in the Whittle Ward on 11 May after a brief illness, surrounded by her children Anita, Rima and Nicholas. She was 92 years old and active to the very end; a day before she fell ill she attended a Tasmanian Plant Society meeting.

Mr Speaker, one of the proudest moments of my life was when I was minister for women and in 2013 had the great honour of inducting Melva Truchanas onto the Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women. These are the notes on the honour roll website:

Melva Truchanas was born on 15 January 1930 and moved to Launceston in 1940. As a teenager, Melva channelled her energies into the Girl Guides' Movement, 'the war effort' and outdoors experiences. Following a year 'tramping' in New Zealand, Melva married Olegas Truchanas in 1956 who had escaped from the carnage of World War II in Eastern Europe.

When the Hydro Electric Commission planned to flood Lake Pedder, Olegas created a photographic presentation, Tasmania's Wild South-West, adding to his educational lectures' series. Melva joined the South-West Committee and Lake Pedder Action Committee, and cared for their family.

The 1967 bushfires destroyed Truchanas' home and Olegas' slide collections documenting 17 years of journeys into Tasmania's then little-known South-West.

I know it was one of Melva's great regrets that when the fire was racing up the back of Forest Road, where they lived in West Hobart, she was heavily pregnant and all she could think about was fleeing the fire. Olegas got back after the fire had been through and said, 'Where are my slides?'. Melva had not saved the slides because she had to save her life and that of her unborn child.


Melva and Olegas' son, Nicholas, was born as the Save Lake Pedder outcry intensified. With the bid to save Lake Pedder dominating their lives, Olegas set about re-establishing his photographic collections.

In 1972, Olegas drowned in a canoeing accident on the Gordon River. The original Lake Pedder was flooded that year.

Melva raised her young family, worked in university administration, kept her 'green ideals': volunteering, mentoring, and becoming a passionate member of the Lake Pedder Restoration committee …

In March this year, we marked the fiftieth anniversary of the flooding of Lake Pedder. We went out to Teds Beach at Lake Pedder and Melva arrived, because she always turned up. She had a walking frame. There is a little sandy ledge that you have to walk down to get onto Teds Beach and she is standing at the top of the little sandy outcrop wondering how she is going to get down. My partner, Senator Nick McKim, said, 'I'll catch you Melva, you'll be right,' and she says, 'Oh Nick, the temptation is overwhelming!'

I thought I might also read into Hansard some of former Greens leader Christine Milne's words about Melva - another great friend of Melva's:

Melva was a much-admired, feisty woman who loved Tasmania's wild places and campaigned to protect them throughout her long life. She encouraged and supported young people to get involved and to get out and enjoy nature, especially the south-west wilderness.

Over the March long weekend this year it was particularly special to have Melva join us out at the Pedder impoundment to commemorate 50 years of campaigning to protect and restore Lake Pedder.

Melva was full of optimism and made a special toast at the lunch:

'To all the Pedder campaigners who have perpetuated the legacy of the lake and inspired a new generation of activists to fight for Tasmania's wild.'

It was also 50 years since her husband, wilderness legend and photographer, Olegas Truchanas, drowned whilst on a trip to photograph the Lower Gordon River, also under threat from Hydro industrialisation. Melva was a member of the Launceston Bushwalking Club, where she met Lithuanian immigrant, Olegas. The pair married in 1954 and explored the wilderness together on many bushwalking and ski trips, including at Cradle Mountain, which she loved.

When Lake Pedder was threatened, they threw themselves into the campaign to save the jewel of the south-west.

Before I came in here tonight, I went through my emails to have a look for some of the many emails that Melva always made time to send. Many people who loved Melva, who love Melva, will have received these messages that would come out of nowhere, often at the time when you needed to hear some affirmation. One such time was after the vote on the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, where Melva made it very clear to the Greens in parliament who had voted for that agreement that she understood why we did it, and that we did it for all the right reasons. She supported us completely.

We sent out a parliamentary report in the sitting weeks and a couple of years ago, Melva wrote:

Dear Cassy and Rosalie,

Thank you for your reports of the actions of parliament and of course for your contributions. The general public would never know the quantity of work you maintain, nor of your successes without these. Certainly, we can't rely on the media to present them.

After last year's state election when there was a swing to the Greens, there was this message:

Hoorah! That this precious Island and its people are still in your caring and guiding hands and looking forward to an increasingly successful future. Thanks to you both and your splendid teams.

Here’s another.

Hello Rosalie,

I so very much enjoyed meeting Adam Bandt again last night. Your speech was marvellous and Cassy's television ad is absolutely first class. I am inspired to donate again. I want more! You have a wonderful organisation of volunteers. May we prosper.

Then she went on to talk about a marine protection plan. She also went through the budget papers last year to point out a fact about the operational funding for the Office of the Coordinator-General - right up to the very end. The beautiful Melva Truchanas stayed Green to her core, was a champion for this beautiful island's wild places, stood with those of us trying to defend it and always was there for a hug.

I cannot quite believe she is gone. I know she was old but I thought we might have her for a little longer. In my office there is a picture of Melva to inspire me every day in my work.