Remembering Les Twentyman: Melbourne’s Esteemed Youth Advocate Died At 76

Les Twentyman, the esteemed Melbourne youth worker and advocate for social justice, passed away at the age of 76.

In a statement released on Saturday, the Les Twentyman Foundation confirmed his passing.

“Les inspired us all with his lifelong dedication to helping those in need and his profound contribution to our community has positively changed the lives of thousands of young Victorians and their families,” the foundation said.

The foundation’s chief executive, Paul Burke, said Twentyman’s death had been a “great shock”.

Victorian youth worker: Les Twentyman (Credit: YouTube)

“It was only yesterday that Les was looking to find shoes and clothes for a family in need, and talking about flying to the US for filming of a documentary he had been working on,” he said.

“To his wife Cherie and family, we pass on our love and condolences and will throw our arms around them as they deal with this difficult time – we are all heartbroken.”

Twentyman’s roots were in Braybrook, a suburb in Melbourne’s western region. Over forty years, he dedicated himself to advocating on various fronts, including youth homelessness, drug addiction, prison rehabilitation, and social welfare, primarily within Melbourne’s western communities.

Initially, Twentyman began his career as a physical education teacher. Additionally, he contributed to the Yarraville Victorian Football League (VFL) team as both a coach and player, displaying his passion for sports. Notably, he ardently supported the Western Bulldogs AFL team.

In 2016, when the Bulldogs reached the AFL grand final, Twentyman expressed admiration for the team’s positive impact on the western suburbs.

“When you’re dealing with areas that are haemorrhaging with massive social issues around youth unemployment, homelessness, drug issues, gang issues, this is something that puts it all in the back seat,” he told.

His Back to School initiative aimed to bolster educational opportunities for children, ensuring their retention in school by providing essential resources such as textbooks and other materials.

Les Twentyman’s death news surprised and saddened everyone (Credit: ABC)

Since its inception in 1989, the foundation reported assisting approximately 17,000 individuals in remaining enrolled in school.

“In life Les was never afraid to say what was needed to be said, he gave a voice to the voiceless and leaves a legacy of helping the disadvantaged and those in need that will live long past his extraordinary life,” the foundation said.

In recognition of his contributions, Twentyman was honored as Victorian of the Year in 2006 and received the Order of Australia Medal in 1994.

Bill Shorten, the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), paid tribute to Twentyman, describing him as “one of Melbourne’s notable figures.”

“We were in contact just this week and he worked right up ‘til the last,” Shorten said in a social media post.

“Thoughts and prayers to his family, friends, colleagues and all the people he helped along his road less travelled.”

The deputy premier of Victoria, Ben Carroll, said he was deeply saddened by the news.

“During my time in the portfolios of youth justice, crime prevention and education he was always helpful, reminding me to see the child first and focus on the causes of crime,” he posted on X.

“Twentyman’s work in early intervention saved lives.”

In recent months, Twentyman had been working with director Rod Hardy on a documentary about his life. Burke said Twentyman was a great man, and larger than life, and his work would continue.

“It has been an absolute honour to work with Les through the Les Twentyman Foundation and we will continue his work in helping young people to a brighter future and will ensure that his passing will not be the end of his legacy.”