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Sir Leslie Charles (Les) Thiess (1909–1992)

Sir Leslie Thiess, hailed as the father of Queensland's coal industry and lauded for forging important business bonds between Australia and Japan, will be given a private family funeral after his death in Brisbane at the age of 83.

The man who rose from childhood poverty to carve out a family fortune estimated at $115 million, died on Wednesday night in Brisbane's St Andrew's War Memorial Hospital after the deterioration of a heart condition.

In a statement, Sir Leslie's family said a private funeral would be held but no details were disclosed.

He is survived by three brothers and a sister and his sons Geoff and Alan and daughters Esmay, Thelma and Margaret.

Former Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, a long-time friend of Sir Leslie, said his death was a great loss to the state.

He said Sir Leslie had contributed more to the state's growth and development than anyone he had known.

"There are dams and roads and cuttings, construction work right throughout Queensland, right throughout Australia, Papua New Guinea and many other places," Sir Joh said.

"He has been there and achieved tremendous things for the nation."

The Premier of Queensland, Wayne Goss, said Sir Leslie had "obviously been a very successful businessman and somebody who's contributed a far bit to this state".

Major achievements of Sir Leslie's companies include tunnelling works during construction of the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme.

In 1958, Thiess Holdings became the first Australian company to win such a contract in competition with international construction companies and went on to build about 25 per cent of the project.

Thiess Holdings introduced Toyota motor vehicles into Australia in 1958 as off road vehicles on the Snowy Mountains project and the company was appointed Australian agent for sales and service of the Toyota Landcruiser.

Sir Leslie was a pioneer of open-cut coal mining in central Queensland and was first to export coal to Japan.

Negotiations with the Japanese began in 1958 and the first coal was exported from the Kianga open-cut mine in 1960.

Eleven years later, he was awarded the Third Order of the Second Treasure from the Japanese Government for his contribution to trade between Australia and Japan.

The same year, 1971, he received a knighthood in recognition of his contribution to Australia's economy, industry and reputation overseas.

But his image was sullied last year when a Brisbane Supreme Court defamation jury backed claims by Channel Nine's A Current Affair that he had bribed Sir Joh on a number of occasions to win multi-million-dollar government contracts.

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'Thiess, Sir Leslie Charles (Les) (1909–1992)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 July 2024.

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