Vale Russell Taylor AM

It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of ARLF Fellow Russell (Russ) Taylor in early April.  

A proud Kamilaroi man, Russ was a tireless campaigner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for over four decades. 

Russ, together with Rod Burke, were our inaugural First Nations ARLP participants on ARLP Course 2 back in 1993.  

Fellow Course 2 participant, Lisa Wilson had this to say about Russ… 

“I feel so very privileged to have met Russ in the Kimberley in 1995 when we began our shared Australian Rural Leadership journey. He was an exemplary First Nations, Public Service and Australian Leader, he touched and improved many lives, and his many legacies and ripples will flow on. I remember many influential conversations with him, his sage counsel and wisdom, his generosity, friendship and great sense of humour. His was a life well lived – one with passion, meaning, love, dedication, respect, integrity and kindness.”   

And Kim Russell, another fellow Course 2 participant, whose time on program and connection with both Russ and Rod, inspired him to write the poem ‘First we have to try’ back in 1995. This poem is a compelling call to action in a year where we all have an opportunity to make a decision that counts.  

First we have to Try 

To stand quiet in the Kimberley  
or as a ringer on Wave Hill 
or lay parched with a thirst 
that no bottle can fulfill 
or sit and draw old stories  
while the kids and dogs run rife 
or to make in the suburbs 
some meaning out of life.  
I like my own back-yard of course  
my little bit of ground 
but it feels like I own it 
and not the other way around 
what it is to be a blackfella 
is hard to understand 
when they say they come from  
and they belong to their land 
Will governments see the plight  
will they listen to the calls 
the calls that echo dimly 
in the parliamentary halls 
the ones that come from the bush 
the ones sprayed on concrete 
the ones from institutions 
or the ones from down the street 
What of the future where we share 
all our hopes and dreams 
will it be clouded by just talk 
and well-intentioned schemes 
will it be just a dreaming place 
made up of stories, dance and song 
or will it be a place of substance 
where we can all belong 
So if we are to understand 
our neighbours down the track 
whether they are near or far 
or whether they are white or black 
I know it won’t come easy 
I hope it comes before I die 
but I see if we are to understand 
then first we have to try.  

Kim Russell 1995 Course 2 ARLP 

Kim also added… 

“Russ helped me with this poem back when I first had the privilege of meeting him in 1995. I struggled with the use of the term “Blackfella” in the poem and Russ said it is fine, good to use it in that context if it comes from your heart, and your heart is in a good place. Russ and Rod taught me so much more than what I thought I had learned; working as a ringer in Western Queensland or up in Darwin and travelling across the Kimberly for the first time in 1979. Russ brought deep understanding and knowledge to so many people whose lives he touched. 

My son Lachlan also had the privilege of working with Russ at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), so his life and his work has touched our family’s lives deeply.“  

ARLF staff Annette McCarthy and I attended the funeral in Canberra and it was such a privilege to join Russ’ family, friends, colleagues at his celebration of life ceremony. Fellow Kim Russell and ARLF Associate Michelle Deshong were also in attendance. 

The ARLF joins with all Course 2 alumni, offering Judi, family and friends and Russ’ mob our condolences, sympathies and our gratitude for having known him.  

As part of the ARLF’s 30th Anniversary celebrations in 2022, a select few of the alumni network provided a ’30 Years 30 Yarns’ video.  With the support of Russ’ daughter, he was able to create a video for us with his reflections on his leadership and what had inspired him.

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