Proud Kamilaroi man, Russell Taylor, is the recipient of the Male Elder of the Year Award at the 2018 National NAIDOC Awards. The award recognises his dedication to giving back to his people and community as a tireless campaigner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
For many decades Russell has played pivotal leadership roles across many sectors including Indigenous Education, Housing and Governance, which in 2016 saw him appointed a Member (AM) of the Order of Australia for “significant service to the community as a cultural leader and public-sector executive in the field of Indigenous affairs”.
Preserving knowledge and culture
Amongst many public sector Senior Executive Service and board positions, Russell was the Principal at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).
“I’m very proud of my career and my achievements and the achievements of that organisation,” he told NITV.
Such achievements include doubling the annual base funding of AIATSIS, growing its collection to close to 1 million items, inscribing the Australian Indigenous Languages Collection in the UNESCO Memory of the World Program and the development of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural learning course for the Australian Government.
Professor Robert Tonkinson, Senior Honorary Research Fellow Adjunct and Honorary Staff, Anthropology and Sociology at the University of WA, said upon Russell’s retirement in 2016, “Under his leadership, the institute has developed into the world’s premier institution for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies”, a claim that has been independently verified.
Through his work with AIATSIS, Russell has given Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people significant access to their material, cultural history and their Indigenous knowledge, as well as their preservation for future generations. This reflects Russell’s passion for knowledge of his people and culture, and exemplifies his desire to make positive leading change.
Aboriginal Employment and Education at the core
Throughout his professional life, Russell strived to ensure an that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were engaged in employment at all levels throughout the Australian Public Service (APS).
“There is a place for an Indigenous voice in the development and application of policies, not just Indigenous policies, but policies that affect all Australians”, he told NITV.
“And many of those policies have not been co-designed with the involvement of Indigenous people.”
As a senior Aboriginal leader in the APS he used one of his final public speeches to urge that “the APS should engage properly with Indigenous communities and recruit staff using culturally appropriate ways”. He maintained that the validity and authority of Indigenous organisations such as AIATSIS could only be upheld with the involvement and contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people “in their development, their design and their delivery”.
In 2001, he was the founding director of the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre, which has now seen almost 2000 Indigenous people graduate with nationally-recognised leadership qualifications.
Russell says that “education is a great part of the answer in terms of trying to turn things around”.
Because of her, he can
In the spirit of this year’s NAIDOC theme, Russell names Lowitja O’Donoghue, the original Chairperson of ATSIC, as a “great influence on [his] life”.
“I’ve been absolutely led and guided by many, many strong women,” he told NITV.
But it was the experiences of his own parents, and in particular his grandmother, that has fueled Russell’s passion for what he does.
“That really influenced me to try to make some sort of difference.”
“I could see there was a need for huge change in terms of policies and community attitudes towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
These days, he names his own wife and daughters as his biggest influence, saying “[they] have given me fantastic advice and support over the years.”
“I am the better for it, because I’ve listened to those voices and I’m forever in their debt.”
Whilst Russell has retired from his outstanding career in Government, he continues to contribute to community wellbeing and drive social change through his new role as Chairperson for Burbangana Group.
Of his nomination for Male Elder of the Year, Russell said, “I will be forever grateful”.
The National NAIDOC Awards 2018 broadcasts live on NITV (Ch. 34), Friday 13 July at 7.30pm and will be available On Demand after broadcast.
For all NAIDOC Week stories and features head to our website.