Tributes pour in for the environmental photographer who created Australia’s “pure gold” photo library


Environmental photographer Wayne Lawler has spent more than 12 years traveling the continent in a Land Rover and, most often, a helicopter.

He has gone from traditional color correction film to work for the nonprofit Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), capturing unique digital images of wild animals rarely seen by humans.

“I would say his personality reflected his role,” recalls his colleague Brad Leue.

Wayne has spent a tremendous amount of time alone documenting these rare and endangered wildlife, sometimes months just living in a [Land] Rover motorhome.

“You really need to understand exposure and light, so when he went from film to the digital age he really fit into that pretty easily.”

Mr Lawler, 65, worked until the end of last year and died in late May after battling an illness for at least six months.

Many remember him as a visionary.

The beautiful Boab Valley in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.(

Provided: Wayne Lawler / Australian Wildlife Conservancy


Lonely traveler

AWC protects over 6.5 million hectares of Australian land and the endangered creatures that inhabit it.

Mr. Lawler would travel hundreds of thousands of miles, from sanctuary to sanctuary, in his Land Rover to document this conservation work.

“He covered areas like the Kimberley… he worked in Cape York, the Gulf of Carpentaria, [spent] lots of time in Central Australia working at our Newhaven Sanctuary there with the Warlpiri rangers, [in] the New South Wales hinterland into Mallee Country and then southwest Western Australia as well, ”said Mr Leue.

A small gray, white and black bird with skinny yellow legs, an orange beak and an orange ring around the eyes
Mr Lawler has photographed birds, like this black-fronted fruit bat at the Bowra Wildlife Sanctuary in Cunnamulla.(

Provided: Wayne Lawler / Australian Wildlife Conservancy


“He had a Land Rover that was an RV, so you could drive in the front and back was basically a big covered camping area where he had his computers and all his camera gear.

“He had this car for a long time so in the end it was moving a bit slowly, probably kinda like it was, but it would just do the job, no complaints.”

Two men with digital SLR cameras around their necks stand in a dry forest.
AWC photographers Brad Leue and Wayne Lawler.(

Provided: Wayne Lawler / Australian Wildlife Conservancy


The chance of a lifetime

Mr. Leue had the honor of working closely with Mr. Lawler but rarely alongside the much-loved photographer.

“I had followed his work for maybe five to seven years before I met him and then worked with him, so it was a memory I will never forget,” said Mr. Leue.

“We were both usually on either side of the country, but when doing important work like transfers [rewilding projects], I would cover the video side of things and Wayne would do the [stills] photography.

“It was maybe only three times a year that we could work together but, because we were on the same communications team, we would chat weekly and share stories often.”

A small rodent with a cute pointy face holds something in its hands as it stands on a log.
Mr Lawler captured a larger stick-nest rat at the Mount Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary in WA.(

Provided: Wayne Lawler / Australian Wildlife Conservancy


Environmental photo library

While working for AWC – in what seems like a dream job – Mr Lawler created Australia’s largest environmental photo library.

“He saw that there was a real gap … [in] documenting these rare and endangered species and the people who do the work to preserve them, ”said Mr. Leue.

A small round-eyed rodent sits on the earth at night.
A burrowing bettong poses for Wayne Lawler on Faure Island in Shark Bay, WA.(

Provided: Wayne Lawler / Australian Wildlife Conservancy


“We have it on hand now and we see it as pure gold really.”

The photographs in this collection are provided to universities, used in scientific articles, and used to inform the public about the work of AWC.

Perfect shot

It was widely known among AWC staff that Mr. Lawler was not afraid to go to incredible lengths to take the right photo while blending in with his surroundings.

A large expanse of greenery surrounding a billabong filled with water.
Wayne Lawler occasionally took aerial photos, such as Archer Billabong’s in Cape York.(

Provided: Wayne Lawler / Australian Wildlife Conservancy


“He could sit in one place for 12 to 15 hours, making very little noise, barely moving, just to blend in with the whole so he could get that nice shot of the species he was working with. “said Mr. Leue.

“If you met Wayne you would probably leave thinking he was a pretty calm man, and I think that really helped him in his job.”

The photographer continued his work until his death.

A small creature with spotted fur sits between two tree branches.
Wayne Lawler captured this northern quoll at a shrine in the Kimberley region of WA.(

Provided: Wayne Lawler / Australian Wildlife Conservancy


“But if this was an area he could get to without too much hassle and without lugging around equipment, he would continue to assume it for as long as he could,” said Leue.

AWC CEO Tim Allard said Mr. Lawler was a “valued member of the AWC family”.

“A cheerful and calm companion on countless wildlife survey expeditions, animal transfers and ministerial launches, he will be remembered and greatly missed,” he said.