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.