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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Chandler, Leslie Gordon (Les) (1888–1980)

by Tess Kloot

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Leslie Gordon Chandler (1888-1980), ornithologist and photographer, was born on 11 January 1888 at Malvern, Melbourne, fourth child of English-born parents Robert Charles Chandler, gardener and gentleman, and his wife Ellen, née Mead(e)s. When Les was 2 the family moved to The Basin in the Dandenong Ranges. He attended the local school and, after transferring to Bayswater State School, used the three-mile (4.8 km) walk to observe nature.

Aged 15, Chandler was apprenticed to a Melbourne jeweller. Unhappy in the city, he spent weekends at home or in the bush. At 18 he began to give talks to schools. By 1907 he had become one of Australia's earliest photographers of birds. He joined the Bird Observers' Club that year, the Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union in 1910 (life member 1961) and the Field Naturalists' Club of Victoria in 1914. During 1912 he had participated in Australia's first bird-banding scheme: skilled as a jeweller, he fashioned metal bands that were not injurious to the birds' legs.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 8 July 1915 and promoted corporal next month, Chandler served with the 15th Field Ambulance on the Western Front. He recorded his wartime experiences with a tiny camera hidden under his uniform, and in diaries written in shorthand as was his lifelong custom. Gassed at Villers-Bretonneux, France, in April 1918, he was invalided to England; he reached Melbourne in January 1919 and was discharged medically unfit on 25 July.

Too ill for jewellery work, Chandler went to the Mallee where he roamed the countryside and regained his health. In 1921 as a soldier settler he took up a block at Red Cliffs which he converted from virgin bush to a vineyard. Next year he published Bush Charms, and Jacky the Butcher-Bird which was written by candlelight under canvas. Having founded the Nature Photographers' Club of Australia on his return from the war, in 1922 he instituted a travelling portfolio of nature photographs. Over the years his work was exhibited in London, Japan and the United States of America; he won many prizes, including the Kodak medallion. On 10 September 1931 he married Ivy Henshall at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Mordialloc, Victoria.

From 1909 Chandler published more than one hundred articles in such periodicals and newspapers as Emu, Walkabout, Riverlander, Wildlife, Wildlife in Australia, Victorian School-paper, and the Age, Australasian, Argus, Leader, Victorian Naturalist and Australian Photo-Review. As 'Oriole' he was nature correspondent for the Sunraysia Daily, but declined a permanent position because he wanted the freedom to 'go bush'.

In 1949 Chandler helped to form the Sunraysia Field Naturalists' Club. In recognition of his contribution as president, vice-president, treasurer and editor, he was made a life member. He was also a foundation member of the Mildura Historical Society. With other naturalists, he worked tirelessly to have the Hattah-Kulkyne area declared a National Park and succeeded in 1960.

A spare man, 5 ft 7 ins (170 cm) tall, with dark hair and deep-set, brown eyes, Chandler was courtly, gentle and generally silent, unless with a kindred spirit when it was difficult to stop him. He loved books, poetry and art, and enjoyed wood-carving. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died on 25 January 1980 at Mildura and was buried in the local cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Whittell, The Literature of Australian Birds (Perth, 1954)
  • M. J. Chandler, Against the Odds (Red Cliffs, Vic, 1979)
  • M. J. Chandler, Tribal Lands to National Park (Red Cliffs, Vic, 1980)
  • L. G. Chandler, Dear Homefolks, M. J. Chandler compiler (Red Cliffs, Vic, 1988)
  • Emu (Melbourne), 80, pt 4, Oct 1980, p 241
  • Sunraysia Naturalists' Research Trust, Seventh Report, Apr 1970, p 63
  • Geo, 12, no 4, Dec 1990-Feb 1991, p 87
  • Chandler file, Royal Australian Ornithologists' Union Archives (privately held).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Tess Kloot, 'Chandler, Leslie Gordon (Les) (1888–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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