Vale Les Dalton

Les Dalton was a volunteer at UMA from the early 1990s to the 2000s. Les passed away in August and UMA would like to extend our condolences to his friends and family.

Les Dalton was a volunteer at UMA from the early 1990s to the 2000s. His background in community activism meant that he was well placed to process and list many of the significant peace and social movement collections we hold. His contribution to UMA is considerable, as can be seen in his 2004 article for the UMA Bulletin, “Archiving Community Activism”. Les passed away in August and UMA would like to extend our condolences to his friends and family. Staff members at UMA remember him fondly. A packed Memorial Service held by his family on 1 September was a testament to the regard Les was held in by all those he connected with in his long and productive life.

Les Dalton, 2004. Photographed by John Ellis
Les Dalton, 2004, photographed by John Ellis.

In 2006, UMA staff member Jane Ellen profiled Les for the UMA Bulletin:

JE: What work did you do before you came here?

LD: I started working at the CSIRO on polymers early in the Second World War. My research had mostly to do with the plastics used in trainer aircraft. [Les was continuing in the family tradition; his father, a self-taught chemist, was the first person to make Bakelite plastics in Australia. Ed.] Later on I drifted into synthetic organic chemistry, working on pharmaceuticals and pesticides. Though today I’d be pretty reluctant to undertake research on some of those classes of chemicals for use in agriculture. I am a lot more conscious about the environment than I was in those days. Then I didn’t really question the hazards of pesticides. Actually it was the use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War, which I had joined the campaign against, that first made me conscious of those hazards. I retired from the CSIRO early, at 57, to do a few different things in life. Just prior to retirement I’d been one of five who got the Movement Against Uranium Mining underway. From then on I have devoted much of my time in the environmental and peace movements. Also, my wife Dorothy and I wanted to be able to go bush when we felt like it, although community movements tend to take a hold on your time just like work. Later on I was also part of a small publishing group putting out information material like school kits about nuclear and other energy issues. We produced a school video – ‘Cold Comfort’ – on the nuclear issue. I also published a couple of books on the same theme.

JE: What aspect of working in Archives appeals to you?

LD: Oh, it’s taking part in activities and projects with other people, in this case preserving something of the social and political records of our times. As a volunteer, able to turn for advice when I need it, I become quite absorbed in whatever collection I am working on.

JE: Which category of collections do you prefer to work with?

LD: I like working with the collections of people who have been active in the social and political movements like I myself have been involved or interested in – the peace movement, trade unions, the environment, social justice.

JE: Which historical time would you like to have lived through?

LD: I wasn’t consulted and have to be content to have experienced most of the 20th century and now a bit of this one. I follow world events pretty closely. I am not sure I am as optimistic as I was in my younger days. Whether that has to do with my growing old or the turbulence of the times in which we live, I do not know.

JE: Read any good books lately?

LD: I’ve gone back to re-reading the 19th century authors. I’ve just finished Daniel Deronda and now I’m reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

JE: Thank you, Les.