Craig Leeson: The environmental storyteller and crusader

Our 2022 Tasmanian Australian of the Year, Craig Leeson, is on a mission to spread awareness that climate change, single use plastics and biodiversity loss are already affecting every single one of us. In our 2022 Australian of the Year series, he talks about  his childhood influences, how the next generation are saving the planet and what gives him hope.

Four years ago, filmmaker and journalist Craig Leeson began researching a new documentary on para-alpinism, an extreme sport where mountain climbers scale summits and paraglide off their peaks. He planned to film at the French Alps during winter but arrived to find little ice and no snow.

Craig’s journalistic instincts kicked in and his probing questions quickly led him to an alarming truth – rising temperatures were turning glaciers into rivers of melting ice. As a storyteller, he knew this was a tale worth telling. As an environmentalist, he wanted this catastrophe to get global attention. Overnight, the documentary on an extreme sport became one on melting glaciers instead.

Craig wanted to give his viewers a bird’s eye view of the glaciers which meant filming from great heights. So he did the necessary - became a licensed paraglider, edged his way across narrow alpine ridges and climbed the tallest mountain in Europe and one of the world’s most treacherous – Mont Blanc.

“We wanted our audience to grasp the magnitude of this problem and understand that it isn't isolated in one country - it affects us all,” Craig says. “And to tell that story to a global audience, we had to travel globally ourselves.”

After four years of filming in 12 countries, The Last Glaciers will have its public premiere in IMAX cinemas, museums and domes on 22 March, 2022.

Meet other extraordinary Australians

Read the inspiring stories of our other recipients and discover how they’re making a profound and positive contribution to their communities.

It doesn't matter who you are, what language you speak or how much money you have. Climate change is already affecting you.

Craig grew up in Ocean Vista, a rural suburb of the city of Burnie with a population of 30,000 people in north-west Tasmania. If he wasn’t on the beach surfing or exploring rock pools, he was caring for injured animals in his backyard or watching nature documentaries by his hero, Sir David Attenborough. It was a childhood he deeply treasures for gifting him with an empathy for animals and a reverence for nature.

“I grew up wanting to be a vet or a park ranger or David Attenborough,” Craig says. Today, he describes himself as a historian, storyteller, journalist, filmmaker, philanthropist and environmentalist. But his most important role is travelling the world meeting with heads of state, scientist, corporate and community leaders to share his research and solutions on critical issues facing humanity. Here, Craig talks about his childhood influences, how the next generation can save the planet and what gives him hope.

How did your childhood lay the foundation for your interest in environmental issues?
“I was fascinated by the rock pools. I’d swim in them and observe the animals there. I realised that every species lived in symbiosis with each other. There was balance. And I recognised that our planet is like a rock pool. It’s finely balanced - and we have a role in maintaining that balance.”

Growing up in suburban Tasmania, what were the biggest influences in nurturing these interests?
“My mother taught me empathy especially for animals. My father travelled a lot as the chief of staff sports editor for The Advocate newspaper. When international athletes competed in Australia, they often stayed with us because they knew my father. Meeting these athletes taught me about travelling beyond Tasmanian borders. My parents were keen travellers and took us on many local and overseas trips that exposed us to different cultures, languages and ways of life.”