Brian Russell Relocates

Brian Russell Relocates 

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Photographed farewelling Brian Russell at Merton Aged Care Village, back row Dawn Charlton, Lesley Moore, Alison Hordern and  Shirley Nebaur, front – Bill McKenzie, Brian Russell and Robert Lewis

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Brian Russell, 58 Pecks Road, North Richmond NSW 2754

Phone (02) 4571 3537 Email  AUGUST 27 2019

Brian Russell’s 56 years reviewing Hunter Thoroughbred Breeding

Neighbours (pictured) plus good friend Lesley Moore (Muswellbrook) farewell Brian Russell (centre) outside Villa 4, Merton Aged Care Village, Denman before his departure on September 24 to live with his son Ian and family at North Richmond NSW, a move made necessary because of the collapse of the health of his wife Deidree, now in full time care.

Although only resident at Merton Village for a little over a year, Brian loved the quality of the units and management and the friendship of the neighbours. Because of his own health problems, Brian needed a lot of help from the Merton Village Home Care group and is full of praise for the Merton Angels who helped him, Renae (co-ordinator), Cathy, Cheryl, Janet, Joy, Rebecca and Terry.

A writer on thoroughbred breeding since early 1963 and associated with the industry in the Hunter Valley ever since, Brian made what will be possibly his last call at a stud in the region when he attended the stallion parade at Widden on August 22.

Starting off his career commenting on breeding in Sydney 56 years ago; Brian Lived at Scone for five years and Muswellbrook for 27. While at Scone he established a national breeding monthly magazine under the banner of Australian Bloodhorse Review and moved to Richmond NSW so it could be produced by Rural Press. It now has new owners and a name change to Bluebloods.

Due to be 89 on September 21, Brian in recent years has been publishing regular reviews under Australian Thoroughbred sent by email to 3400 people involved in breeding and racing.  He hopes to resume reports in the near future.

Note: I have taken the liberty of posting this on my regular ‘blog’. Brian actually sent it to me. Lesley Moore is Jack Johnston’s daughter from Scone. She was secretary of Scone Race Club when I assumed the office of President in 1978. Lesley has been Brian’s ‘chief-of -staff’ in recent times. Also sharing the excellent space at Merton Court are Mr & Mrs John Harris from the eminent ‘Holbrook Stud’ in the Widden Valley .It’s eclectic thoroughbred company!

“On Wings Like Eagles”

Deidree Russell – Life Story by Ian Russell

Deidree Russell (15th May 1939 – 1st April  2023)

The year was 1939, Australia was still in the grip of a worldwide depression and the drums of war were again beating loudly, Robert Menzies had just become the Prime Minister, The Wizard Of Oz and Gone With The Wind were playing on the silver screen…and on the 15th of May a bonny little ginger-haired girl was welcomed to the world by her parents –  Allan and Aileen Connolly.

She would be named Deidree Ann Connelly. Ann without an E.

Aileen, her mother, was the daughter of William Mills Jackson and Catherine Mary Jackson. They owned Wangareena station, a 120,000 acre sheep farm situated about 90 miles west of Bourke in the Darling basin.

The Back O’ Bourke!

William Jackson (Deidree’s grandfather), a towering figure with ginger hair and a bushy moustache, had worked as a horse breaker and station master for Sir Sydney Kidman (the Cattle King).

Catherine, or Kate Jackson, formerly Purtell, came from Holbrook, near Albury. Her family were pioneers of the area and once hid terrified under the kitchen table as Ned Kelly and his gang stormed onto their property in the cover of night and made off with their imported thoroughbred mare.

Catherine would feed up to 120 shearers and station hands at shearing time, while daughter Aileen who had become a highly-skilled horsewoman and could outride most of the boys, would help her grandfather on the property.

Aileen, was sent to school at Darlinghurst in Sydney and in 1932 rode a horse across the Harbour Bridge as part of the opening procession. She was a champion rider at the Royal Easter show.

A cousin, Jack Purtell, would ride three Melbourne Cup winners.

Queensland born Allan Edward Connolly was working on Wangareena station when he met the younger Aileen.

The two were married in Bourke but Allan and Pop Jackson did not get along, so he took his bride north to his hometown of Townsville.

Deirdree was born in Townsville General hospital.

Allan and Aileen’s life up north soon fell on hardship so they returned to Wangareena. The marriage only lasted a couple of years. Deidree’s brother Wayne was born in 1943. By then Allan had left.

She never saw her father again.

With the war coming to an end and their grandfather now in his 70’s and ready to retire – they downsized to a five-acre farm at Mittagong in the NSW Southern Highlands.

The property was called ‘Treverven’ and they grew vegetables. Pop Jackson used to sit on the porch and smoke his pipe as the kids played. Deirdree’s room was an enclosed verandah.

Uncle Joseph Purtell, who had returned traumatised from the trenches of Gallipoli, lived in a shed at the bottom of the farm and helped out. He would disappear into the hills for weeks on end prospecting for gold. One day he went up into the mountains and never returned.

There were water tanks and woodfire heating. It occasionally snowed. Ice was delivered for refrigeration.

They played and caught tadpoles in the creeks and yabbies in the dams. Deidree loved playing with her dolls and cutting out dresses from her mother’s fashion magazines. She loved to dance and performed in some of the local productions.

Her grandmother who was strict but loving, baked bread, made clothes and cooked for all the family.

Aileen would find work modelling stockings for the David Jones catalogues. Deidree’s mother still rode and would travel around to compete in equestrian events. Deidree used to ride in the gymkhanas but joked she would climb on one side of a horse and fall off the other.

Deidree and Wayne went to school at Mittagong and Bowral. Mum said she was just an average student. She liked studying Geography but it was Art and craft that she enjoyed the most.

Pop Jackson, who Deidree adored, sadly passed away in 1948, aged 78. Catherine would die a couple years later.

Aileen would eventually remarry, Elwyn Talbot, a neighbour in Mittagong and she had two more girls, Heather and Christine.

They attended the local Anglican church and Deidree went to Sunday school.

Her first job as a teenager was during the school holidays at the local Woolworths but she already had her heart set on becoming a nurse.

1959 was a watershed year for my mother.

She commenced her official training to become a registered nurse at Liverpool Hospital.

And a week before her 20th birthday in May, Deidree was among a crowd of over 130,000 people who had gathered at the Sydney showground on a windy autumn day to hear the Reverend Billy Graham preach the message of hope and salvation.

The opening Hymn – Blessed Assurance.

Deirdree accepted the invitation to take up the cross and she became a Christian.

In 1963, she completed her training as a Registered Nurse, finishing among the top of her class.

When talking about my mum’s Nursing day’s, my father would always add to the conversation……

The week your mother graduated she and a couple others were sent down to the morgue, only to find a corpse sitting up on a slab with a sign tied around its neck saying “Congratulations class of 63”.

She then headed north to Queensland, to continue her training in midwifery at the Brisbane Women’s Hospital.

After returning home, she travelled around NSW working in hospitals at Parkes, Moruya and Kiama before returning to work at Auburn hospital in Sydney.

She recalled an incident. “A little boy had been bitten by a spider and gone into anaphylactic shock. He’d stopped breathing but I eventually revived him with CPR.” she said.

In 1966, Deidree met Journalist and Trundle born Brian Russell who was also off the land. A cousin of Brian’s had bought Wangareena station off the Jacksons twenty years earlier.

Love soon blossomed and on the 17th of December that same year the couple were married at St Stephen’s Anglican Church in Mittagong.

They purchased a two bedroom house on a corner block in Eastwood for $15,000. Deidree continued to nurse while Brian accepted the position as Advertising Manager for Racetrack magazine.

She developed a love for oil painting and would spend much of her free time painting landscapes and going to art lessons.

On the 7th of February 1972 Ian William Russell was born at Crown Street Women’s Hospital.

Five months after the birth of Ian the family was dealt a major blow that would change their lives forever.

Returning from covering the horse sales in South Australia, Brian contracted a mosquito borne virus – Murray River Encephalitis, which left him paralysed and requiring months of rehabilitation in a specialist hospital.

Despite this enormous setback Brian kept on writing in the hospital. He said he was too busy to be ill. He had a portable Remington typewriter in his hospital bed and was surrounded by his racing books and journals.

To quote my mother;

“In the later months, I never thought my nursing training would be as handy. I had a ten-month old baby and a husband in a wheelchair. I got into a routine and with the Lord’s help I managed.

Mum said “He was an inspiration and when told he may never walk again he recalled an old Persian proverb “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

My father would eventually walk again with the aid of a calliper and walking sticks.

Not long after we moved to Kincumber on the Central Coast. My father continued working for Racetrack Magazine by correspondence. Dad reversed the car out and converted the back garage into an office.

Mum attended St Paul’s Anglican Church, where I would be christened. She joined the local art society, continuing her lessons and submitting paintings to exhibitions. She taught scripture and was always rolling up her sleeves for the mother’s club and school fundraisers. There were tupperware parties, cake stalls and lamington drives. She made me wonderful costumes for book week and colourful bonnets for easter.

We lived on a dirt road. Kincumber was only a tiny village back then. We were occasionally visited by snakes and goannas and mum would always be checking the dogs for ticks and the letter box for funnel webs. The neighbours had a pet goat which would frequently get loose and come rampaging into our house. My mother was always dragging it out by the horns.

She buzzed around in a little mini-minor and it would feel like the wheels would come off the ground if she took a corner too quickly. She crashed it on one occasion and spent the rest of the year in a neck brace.

Relatives came to help install an above ground swimming pool.

A little boy who was quickly learning how to test his parents and find mischief –  shoved a cricket stump in the pool pump and when uncle Wayne went to turn it on the next day, the stump shot out like an arrow and went straight through the pool wall.

That day my uncle introduced me to some new words and my mother introduced me to Proverbs 13-24.

In 1978 we farewelled Kincumber and moved to Scone, the Horse capital of Australia.

We settled in quickly. Dad had many friends in the local racing industry, many whose wives attended the local Anglican Church.

Mum got involved in all the community, school and church activities, she taught scripture and Sunday school, she volunteered teaching art at the local nursing home and kept herself busy growing veggies and making preserves from the fruit trees. She rode a push bike around town and brewed ginger beer in the back laundry. Sometimes we’d hear a loud bang in the middle of the night where a bottle had exploded.

Sunday’s she would ring her mother and they would talk for hours about what the family had been up to that week (usually what trouble I was in) and then they would pray together. They would also write beautiful letters to each other.

They loved each other dearly. It was a love galvanised by hardship and faith.

Mum and Nana were heavily involved in supporting the missions overseas and they shared the sponsorship of several children. Dad contributed too.

We sponsored a Filipino girl. Her name was Flordiluna and she was from Manila. We had pictures and exchanged letters. She told us about her school and the floods. We supported her all the way through school.

My father founded a magazine called The Australian Bloodhorse Review. We would all help with the mail outs. Neighbours would come around to help stuff the envelopes. Mum would type the labels and help with the bookwork. Dad even sent a magazine to the Queen.

Eventually the magazine became too big for the local printing press to handle so once again the family was on the move…this time to the Hawkesbury.

We moved to Richmond half way through my first year of High School. It was very different coming from a bush school. It took a long time to adjust to Hawkesbury life.

I never really liked school. Mum was called up to the office a few times after I’d  gotten in a fight or was busted wagging class.

Other than the night I came home drunk as a 16 year-old and crashed through the bathroom window, she was usually calm and measured when I needed to be brought into line.

English was one of my better subjects. I did like writing. I guess I inherited that from both my parents. But like my mother, I also had an interest in art and being creative.

I made this batik wall hanging in art using dye and wax. It was an Eagle and I gave it to my mum for mother’s day. It hung on a wall in her bedroom for thirty years.

Summer time was fun in the Hawkesbury! We’d jump in mum’s little brown Datsun after cricket, and she’d drive all the kids in the street out to Yarramundi where the dog would have a swim and we’d float down the rapids under the bridge.

She would drive around the Hawkesbury with her easel and oil paints, finding a tree to sit under to paint mountain scenes or the river. It was her little way of escaping for a while and it’s where she would talk to God.

Holidays were at Nelson’s Bay, Port Macquarie or the Entrance. There was a trip to Fiji when I was young. Christmas was usually down at Mittagong.

Mum also loved to sing. She would play her hymns on an old cassette player and sing loudly. A soprano, albeit a little off key at times. Her high notes would occasionally set the neighbours dogs off….but she didn’t care.

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord” she would say.

Mum read the Bible every day. She loved the Psalms.

She was never afraid to share her faith. In a world becoming cynical of religion, she was brave and stood up for her beliefs.

“Better to be a fool in the eyes of man than a fool in the eyes of God.” She would say.

I finished school in 1990 and got a job working in the media for Australian Associated Press and not long after that, mum and dad headed back to live in Muswellbrook. A miners cottage near the hospital.

On the odd occasion they needed to spend time in that hospital my father would always request a bed away from the window as it overlooked the town cemetery.

I moved into a leaky caravan at Londonderry and while I travelled a lot into the city they were some really fun times.

Mum and dad gave me the Holden Torana, which had replaced the brown Datsun. It was a very cool mum’s car.

I would drive it over the narrow and windy Putty Road to my parents, about 2-1/2 hours, and every time I’d try to break my record for the trip. I would do that drive many times over the next thirty years.

“Dad would sit at his desk which overlooked their tree-studded block and contemplate his next story. He was a wonderful servant to the Hunter Valley racing and Thoroughbred breeding industry. A real achiever who won several major awards for his services.

Mum had settled back into country living, and made some wonderful friends that she would cherish for the rest of her life. And she again kept herself busy volunteering and with church activities, painting, fixing the house or making patchwork quilts. She became a grandmother to the Washaya children. She spent a lot of time at the church’s food bank shop which provided cheap goods for people doing it tough in the community.

She pottered around in the garden and grew beautiful roses. The front yard, usually parched from summer drought, would burst to life in the springtime with African daisies. Blooming Jacaranda trees formed a majestic canopy of purple and violet. Every visit I’d be sent out the back to dig something out or saw off branches. Mum would feed the magpies scraps. She knew everyone in the street.

Deidree continued donating and raising money for charities and the missions. Some dear friends from the Hawkesbury established an aid ministry in Sri Lanka, around the time the tsunami hit the Asia Pacific. Mum would spend many years helping this cause.

She developed a love for writing poetry; simple poems about her family, friends, devotion and faith. She received awards for some of these poems which were read over the radio on occasions like ANZAC day, Australia Day and Mother’s Day.

She would continue to ring her mother every Sunday. They would pray together over the phone. She would quote a verse from the Bible.

“As your days are, so shall your strength be” which basically means your strength will always be equivalent to what you need and there is grace for every stage of your life.

In 2001 her mother Aileen passed away, aged 86. We sent her off singing ‘Blessed Assurance.’

Her brother Wayne would die in 2006.

Over the years mum’s health would also decline. She had an autoimmune disease and the coal dust from nearby mines wasn’t doing her lungs any favours.

Dad was also finding it harder to get around, but Deidree was up every morning around 7.30am to attend his daily needs. Dad jokingly called her his washer woman. They had a special love.

They also had some help from a lifelong friend Lesley Moore who dad referred to as his Chief Of Staff but it was apparent that life in the old house (which needed a lot of attention) was becoming very difficult.

In 2010 I took some time off for a soul-searching drive around Australia.

On my way back, I decided to surprise my parents with a visit.

I said to my father “I have just driven about 15 thousand kilometres around the country.  He looked me up and down and said “I think you should have walked son.” Make me a cup of tea, your mother is up at the Foodbank and won’t be home for a couple hours.

I told my mother I had been struggling a little and I’ll never forget her words.

“There’s not a day I haven’t prayed for you.’

“Remember it’s not the days in your life, but the life in your days”. It was a favourite quote of hers.

A few years later I had the great pleasure of introducing my parents to Michelle – the love of my life and in 2016 we were married.

I remember dancing with my mother at our wedding and seeing how happy she was. Michelle was the answer to a lot of her prayers.

She gave Michelle a hand-written book, with a compilation of her poems and photos, as well as imparting some of her pearls of wisdom and favourite bible scriptures.

My mother wrote…

“An Eagle hangs on my wall that Ian made in school.”

Every day when I wake it reminds me of the one who said….

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles.

They will run and not grow weary.

They will walk and not be faint.

“I was so encouraged by the Eagle. This was when I was younger and at that stage I noticed Eagles on things everywhere.” she said.

“They reminded me of God’s promises to give me strength for the tasks ahead, whatever they may be.”

“Now that I am quite older I see doves everywhere, the promise of peace.”

The same year my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, then early in 2017 we presented them with a grandson Thomas.

Deidree shared her mother’s love for knitting and needlework. She knitted Tommy a jumper, scarf and beanie and crocheted him a beautiful quilt.

After 28 years of living in Muswellbrook, they sold the old cottage and downsized to a two bedroom unit in an over 50’s village in Denman.

But my father was now in a wheelchair and mum was exhausted, both physically and mentally. She would spend a lot of time in specialist care.

She was in Maitland hospital when she turned 80.

The decision was quickly made to admit my mum to a nursing home in Richmond and we brought my father to live with us in North Richmond.

We added some ramps to the house and set up his office in the spare room overlooking the garden and street. He would sit out in the sun and read (they were both voracious readers) then he’d come back in to work, watch tv or play with Tommy.

He was happy and we loved having him here.

Mum was only minutes away in the nursing home so we would bring her home for the day and she would occasionally stay the night.

We celebrated my father’s 90th birthday with family and friends at our home in 2020.

In April 2021 my father pushed his chair away from his desk, turned off his computer and quietly said ‘That will have to do me!’..a month later he passed away. He was an amazing man!

We went back to the Hunter Valley and celebrated his life at Muswellbrook races.

My mother’s mental health began to improve and we would bring her home every Friday then pick her up for church on Sunday morning and she would stay the night. We had a routine and she was happy.

In September of 2021 I found some information about Allan Edward Connolly. ;

Discovering he died in the 1980’s and was buried in a place called Hughenden, west of Townsville, I decided to post a message seeking information on him on a Hughenden community page.;

That afternoon I received a reply from Allan’s niece, Andrea, and after bouncing a few questions off each other we both concluded that he was definitely Deidree’s father.

The following day I brought mum home and broke the news to her. She was shocked and speechless but very excited. Shortly after Andrea posted some photos of Allan and for the first time in 81 years my mother was able to see a picture of her father.

We arranged a facetime and Andrea was happy to answer some of the questions that my mother had wondered about all her life.

It gave her some closure.

On the 26th of October last year we welcomed our second child Bryson to the family. I took mum to the hospital to meet her new grandson. I could barely keep up with her, she was so excited.

Christmas day was very special and we had a lot of laughs.

I remember Tommy had a bit of an itch. Next thing mum was sharing a sure-fire way to get rid of worms using honey and sticky tape.

Always the nurse.

And when I tried to get her to tell Tommy what a good boy I was when I was little.

She said “But you weren’t – you were a terror.”

“I came out one day and you had the neighbour’s cat by the tail trying to shove it down the septic tank (a cranky face and even did the actions)…..It nearly scratched you to pieces.”

I couldn’t take my eyes off you for a minute.”

I’m going to miss those conversations!

Not long after Christmas she had a fall and went downhill very quickly from there.

We knew her days were numbered so we made the most of the time we had. I recorded some interviews, we played music, read the bible, prayed and spoke about our life.

The day before mum left hospital to continue her palliative care in the nursing home, we were looking out the window of her room admiring these two white speckled pigeons (otherwise known as rock doves) that were perched on the ledge. I was thinking about how people call them rats with wings..but they were beautiful. I turned back around.

My mother was smiling.

Deidree passed away peacefully in the early hours of Saturday morning on April 1.We held her hand until the very end.

She said she was proud and grateful to have a beautiful family and blessed with some truly wonderful friends and memories.

I was so honoured (with the help of Michelle) to be able to care for both my parents in their final years. I think it was all God’s plan.

It is one thing we all need to get right.

Deidree was a selfless woman.

A woman of valour.

A woman of love, faith, courage and dedication.

She was a loving daughter, devoted wife, beautiful mother and a very proud grandmother.

She gave so much of herself wherever she went and did it all for the glory of her God.

Thank you everyone.

This is her story and this is her song!

Ian Russell 20/4/2023

Ian Russell  |  Racing Production

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