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I Kicked a Stone in Metaphor follows Jens’ family from Latvia through World War II to their new life in Australia as war refugees; through every decade of adventure and discovery until his death. It traces his early life from birth in Australia in 1950 – an event described by Jens as “the new light in a new land”.

In this book, I have gathered together more than 200 beautifully written stories, vignettes and poems created over a lifetime – beginning in Jens’ high school years to only days before his death in 2016. Jens also wrote travel logs, recollected dreams and wrote early drafts of imagined novels; excerpts from all these writings, preserved in journals and notebooks, are included in this collection. While not always completed to his very high standards, every piece offers a unique window into Jens’ inner world and his development as a writer.

The printing of this book coincides with a solo exhibition of Jens’ photography. 

On the 3rd anniversary of his passing.

Held at gaffa Gallery, 281 Clarence St Sydney October 2019 

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Printed and Published in Australia
Books are AUD $100 each (plus postage)
To Purchase a book contact his wife Lea

Book launch and exhibition opening 


Ivana Jirásek


It’s a special honour to speak today, and equally a responsibility - to give Lea’s incredible tribute to her much-loved Jens – the recognition it deserves.

Knowing it will be exactly 3 years ago on Tuesday that Jens lost his life to illness, gives today special significance.

I first met Lea during her art/science residency at the Culture at Work in mid-2017, where I was a curator, supporting her project that was inspired by her recent trip to Antarctica. She generated an elegant and provocative exhibition titled Deception, challenging the fake representations of our vulnerable environment in the media. For those who know Lea, I can confirm she walks the talk in every which way, passionately, credibly and prolifically.

This project – comprising a rich 256-page compendium of writing and an exhibition of 127 photographs, themed across three gallery spaces – represents a true love story. Seeing these works fresh yesterday, and again today, I am struck by their vitality and timelessness. I am equally struck by how much care was given to every element of the project. Consider the selection and grouping of the works, the creativity in the variations of scale and placement, as well as the strategic flow from nature to urban settings and portraits, up to the iconic hero image of the ‘love cats’ on this main wall. We must not overlook the contribution of the curator Lisa Sharkey to this display, and to equivalent role of Lucy Palmer and Natalie Bowra as book editor and designer respectively, to this project’s success.

I ask you to imagine the process of selecting 127 images from 140,000 and 200 stories from a lifetime of writing across different formats. I imagine for Lea it was an intimate re-immersion with Jens – as a way of keeping him close, as a way of rediscovering him, but also as a way of consolidating a lasting record of his life – initially for herself, and now for us, as well as others.

What is presented here will be particularly significant for those who knew Jens for the personal memories it evokes. For others like me, who never met Jens, I see artistic weight, boldness, honesty, clarity and humanity.  

From all the elements here, including hearing Jens’ voice in the video, I piece together a very accomplished man whose life was inherently hard, but who lived with a fierce integrity and who transcended many challenges. I sense that he found solace and freedom in literature and creativity – including his own – through a lifetime of writing and later, photography, and even mosaics, for which he received awards .

An only child born in Sydney to Latvian post-war migrants, Jens lost his mother at the age of 9, and his father at 27 years. He actively cultivated his interests even as a youngster, changing schools to pursue his love of Latin. An Arts/Law degree set him on a professional trajectory into the legal world, becoming a barrister until he retired at 60. Legals are very sharp, incisive and strategic people. They understand the power and impact of words. Their busy intellectual minds are ‘on’ so much more of the time than most of us. Perhaps creativity is where he could let go, with so many influences from his heritage and profession to draw on. I also glean he was a man who was not afraid to live, and live well. An ‘intrepid’.

So, it was then no surprise that he pursued our equally intrepid Lea, strategically winning her heart after her initial resistance, which she revealed to me yesterday. Together they became the spirited, charged and creative duo, propelling each other’s growth for nearly 20 years. And let’s not forget that it was art that brought them together.

That devotion is evident here – they were indeed the big love cats we see in the ‘iconic’ photo[1] who met late in life, had no illusions and knew how to live large, and live well. I know Lea attributes many of her accomplishments to Jens’ influence and encouragement. With a schedule and drive like few others I know, and an impressive record of achievements and advocacy, Jens’ mark certainly endures in her. What she has done here, is she’s ensured that the best of Jens endures in us.

And she’s succeeded, because remember, I never met him, and I will leave this distillation one man’s life with a sharpened understanding of what is really important, and will remember the name Jens Lichtenberger for a long time.

As a Czech-born refugee, who arrived in Australia 50 years ago, I have a deep interest in my own heritage so far away. In this spirit, I’d like to pay tribute to Jens’ Latvian heritage, with these words from a folk song included in the book[2], which seem apt today:  

The sun is rising higher and higher

But I am still in the shadow

I have no mother and there are no loving arms

To put me in the sunshine again.


While that sounds grim, Lea, you and your very fine associates have put Jens in the sunshine again, and we, through this project, we will keep you in the sunshine with him.

With immense gratitude to you for telling Jens’ and his family’s unique story with so much devotion, I am honoured to open this exhibition and launch this book.


[1] I Kicked a Stone in Metaphor, Page 195

[2] Ibid, Page 88

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