Mick Leahy (explorer)

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"Dan Leahy" redirects here. For the baseball player, see Dan Leahy (baseball).
For other uses, see Michael Leahy (disambiguation).
Michael Leahy filming the exploration party to the Wahgi Valley

Michael "Mick" James Leahy MBE (26 February 1901 - 7 March 1979) was an Australian explorer and colonialist, famed for his discovery of the Highlands area of Papua New Guinea. He photographed, filmed and published many of his explorations widely.


Early life[edit]

Leahy was born in Toowoomba, Queensland, the fourth of nine children of Irish migrants Daniel Leahy, a railway guard, and his wife Ellen, née Stone. After an education at the Christian Brothers' College in Toowoomba, Leahy initially worked as a railway clerk before leaving to become a freelance timber cutter. He abandoned this in 1926 upon hearing about the Edie Creek gold strike in New Guinea. He was soon followed to New Guinea by his brothers Paddy, Jim and Danny, while another brother, Tom, remained in Toowoomba.

After suffering from an almost fatal bout of malaria upon trying to reach the gold fields, Leahy instead took a construction and labour management job.


Mick Leahy with Mick Dwyer walked across New Guinea in 1930 and disproved the prevailing opinion that the interior of the island was unpopulated.

Mick and his brother Danny were leaders of the 1933 expedition that opened up the Wahgi valley of the Western Highlands.

He was one of the first Europeans to reach and climb the country's second tallest mountain – Mount Giluwe (1934). However, Jack Hides had also laid claim to be the first to discover Mount Giluwe, so Leahy went to England in 1935 and forced the Royal Geographical Society to set up a hearing into the two opposing claims. The following year Leahy was awarded the Murchison Award by the Society and published his discoveries in their journal.

During the Second World War he joined the Royal Australian Air Force as a flight lieutenant and was assigned to the US chief engineer to build an airstrip in Telefomin. For his services during the war Leahy was awarded the US Medal of Freedom with bronze palm in 1948,[1] appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1952 and made an honorary member of the Explorers Club in 1959.

The 1983 award-winning documentary film 'First Contact' is about the exploration of the Wahgi Valley and Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea based on much of Leahy's footage.

He died at Zenag in Morobe Province, in 1979.


Books and papers authored or coauthored by Leahy include:

  • Leahy, Michael. (1936). The Central Highlands of New Guinea. Royal Geographical Society: London. (pp. 229–262 in the Geographical Journal).
  • Leahy, Michael J. (Ed: Douglas E. Jones). (1994). Explorations Into Highland New Guinea, 1930-1935. Crawford House Press: Bathurst.
  • Leahy, Michael J.; & Crain, Maurice. (1937). The Land That Time Forgot. Adventure and Discoveries in New Guinea. Funk & Wagnalls: New York.


  1. ^ "Leahy, Michael James (Mick) (1901 - 1979)". Biographical Entry. Australian Dictionary of Biography Online. Retrieved 2007-05-08.