Red dirt ran in resident’s veins

Alicia PereraPilbara News

Few people embodied the idea of the Pilbara red dust getting into your veins the way Tish Lees did.

The long-term resident of Karratha Station in its pastoral station days, a passionate advocate of Pilbara history, died late last month at her home in Queensland, aged 77.

Tish Lees (nee Leslie) was the daughter of Bill and Norma Leslie who managed the 122,000ha Karratha Station from 1929-1966, when sheep rather than cattle or iron ore were the area’s main resource and Dampier and Karratha had not yet been built.

Her childhood in the Pilbara outback began what would become a lifelong love of the region, which led to her becoming the first secretary of Hamersley Iron, serving as a Nor West Jockey Club committee member and in 2010 writing the memoir Lonely For My Land: Tales of Karratha Station and the Nor West.

Author Tish Lees at the Perth Royal Show selling and signing copies of her book Lonely for my Land, the story of Karratha station in the Pilbara where she grew up.
Camera IconAuthor Tish Lees at the Perth Royal Show selling and signing copies of her book Lonely for my Land, the story of Karratha station in the Pilbara where she grew up. Credit: Countryman

She died in her new home of Queensland on September 26.

Ms Lees’ son William said his mother had always felt a strong connection to the Pilbara landscape and its people.

“She was Pilbara-born and bred," he said. “She grew up on the station from when she was a little girl.

“The red dust was in her veins.”

Close friend and former Karratha Station manager Donalee Heseltine said Ms Lees had been driven to record her parents’ contributions as some of the region’s early pioneers.

“She had a lot to say about her wonderful childhood on the station,” she said.

“Her parents were dedicated to the Pilbara and to the advancement of the Pilbara and that was a passion of Tish’s too — to acknowledge the history they had and their ongoing commitment to the Pilbara.”

“I’d sum it up as you could take Tish out of the Pilbara but you couldn’t take the Pilbara out of Tish.”

Brian Johnston and Tish Lees with her father's original 1938 gantry from Karratha Station when it was rediscovered in the LIA.
Camera IconBrian Johnston and Tish Lees with her father's original 1938 gantry from Karratha Station when it was rediscovered in the LIA. Credit: Pilbara News, Courtney Fowler.

Local historian Eileen Wright often spoke with Ms Lees about local history and said her insights about the area’s past were invaluable.

“The fact she wrote the book is just a wonderful thing because otherwise that history from her point of view and her family’s point of view would have been lost,” she said.

“She was a very loving person and always was so joyful to be here and it really does sound like it was her spiritual home in a way.”

A memorial service is being held for Ms Lees in Queensland on Saturday and another in Perth on Sunday, October 22.

Mrs Heseltine said she hoped Ms Lees’ enthusiasm for sharing the history of the North West would stand as her local legacy.

“We’ve lost a person who was just so passionate about the Pilbara,” she said.

Former Karratha Station resident Tish Lees with City of Karratha Mayor Peter Long.
Camera IconFormer Karratha Station resident Tish Lees with City of Karratha Mayor Peter Long. Credit: Donalee Heseltine

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