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Russell Trood: a personal reflection

Published 18 Jan 2017

That there have been so many official tributes to Russell Trood extending from the Prime Minister of Australia, to friends, former colleagues and students, speaks to the remarkable impact he had on so many lives. Many of these tributes have observed the distinguished career he had, not only as one of Australia’s leading scholars and foreign policy minds, but his unwavering dedication to public service. As many of these tributes have also observed, Russell did it all with tremendous humility, grace and deference. He was, throughout, a true gentleman.

This is not another formal tribute. I am not going to list his many achievements, for they are all well documented by others far more noteworthy than myself. I am writing this as someone who, like many of you reading this, felt a close personal connection to this man that so many admired.

I first met Russell after re-entering university studies. Having decided that I needed to affect a career change from emergency nursing, I embarked on a foolish endeavour to study undergraduate International Relations. Russell was one of the first lecturers I encountered. To say that he was intimidating would be a profound understatement. Russell scared me. He had this unique ability, you see, to outline utterly compelling yet contrasting arguments on the nature of the world without granting a hint of what he personally believed. As a naïve student, you had no idea, no compass through which to navigate the deadly waters of his intellect in the hope of gaining unwarranted favour. If you fancied to offer up some credulous notion on what the world ‘should’ be like, without any basis on fact, as a devout realist you could expect a stern, withering gaze that would silence the most resolute debater mid-sentence. In his field of expertise, Russell was a force of nature.

To my utter astonishment, I survived my first encounters. To this day, I still do not know how. Russell’s critical but constructive feedback impressed me so much though, that once I reached the mid-way point of my postgraduate studies I asked him to supervise my dissertation. The conversation that ensued has stayed with me since, and will forever. Indeed, it formed the template for conversations I have with my own students contemplating such notions now. Russell’s guidance proved typically insightful, productive, and ultimately transcendent.

Not content, I was determined to study further. Here again, Russell’s intervention proved decisive. Like for many students before and since, he wrote a letter of support that ensured not only my acceptance into the most prestigious Department of International Politics in the world (and his former alma mater), it helped me land two scholarships. Russell’s encouragement and counselling proved invaluable, and put me on a path that changed my life overwhelmingly for the better.

As I was nearing completion of my studies, Russell had gained his senatorial seat and I received a rather cryptic note from him. A job offer. Or more accurately, the prospect of a job offer that wasn’t confirmed until, in his classic style of detailed, forensic examination, Russell interrogated me on any and all political exertions I had made. Full disclosure was requested and required, but not long after I found myself returning to Australia to start work for him as a political adviser.

At the risk of offending my current employer, I have to say that working for Russell was simply the best job I have ever held. I suspect it always will be. He was an amazing, inspiring boss. Those of us who had the privilege to work for him did so, not only because he aroused the deepest loyalty, he gave it fully in return. Russell was also the type of politician that Australia needs and deserves. While he had strong personal convictions, he considered things extremely carefully and cautiously, weighing the evidence at every turn. As his political adviser let me say that proved, at times, extraordinarily frustrating.

One occasion I’ll never forget was when he wanted to send out a press release and I was given the task of drafting it. Russell approached his press releases like his essay marking – there was a lot of red ink expended. Multiple drafts ensued, but with the deadline fast approaching he was ill-content with sending out anything sub-standard. In the end, the media never received that particular press release, as, in Russell’s view, my drafts were “too polemical” – a remarkable comment for a politician to make, but one that offers an insight into who he was.

One further anecdote warrants mention, principally as it evidences again the quality of the man. Not long after joining ‘Team Trood’ I had the opportunity to travel with him to Parliament. We discussed, as we were walking through the corridors, his upcoming senatorial committee responsibilities, and I was simultaneously attempting to take notes while trying unsuccessfully to keep up with him. After having narrowly missed bowling over then-deputy Opposition Leader Julia Gillard after she marched from a meeting room, I recall asking Russell what he thought of the job. His reply, without a tick of hesitation, was “There is not a day that goes by, nor will it ever, that I do not reflect on what an extreme privilege it is to be working in this building on behalf of the Australian people”. That was his character.

After a time though, I followed Russell’s footsteps into the academy. Our relationship changed again at that point as he became a colleague, but more than that: a mentor. Not once was he ever unwilling to give of his time or advice. He took considerable, and fittingly, personal pride in learning of my own academic achievements. Even as his own health was failing, he took time for others and basked in their successes.

To suggest that I owe a debt to Russell is an underestimation of the highest order. To my endless regret, it is one now that I can never fully repay. I would not have been the academic, nor the person I am, without his support, friendship and wise words of counsel through the years. I suspect there are many of you out there similarly indebted. As teachers, we can but hope to impart something of ourselves to our students; to encourage them to always challenge, always question. Though he is now gone, I am comforted by knowing Russell’s legacy will be eternal, as his influence will continue to live on through those of us who knew him and have been inspired to become better people as a result. Good sir, you will be missed.


– Adam Kamradt-Scott