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Bill Yan address to Ross Smith Celebration 18 Nov 2016

My name is Bill from South Sydney Community Aid, Ross Smith has been affiliated with our organisation for 20 years.  He was a director in the 1990s and the last few years have been the organisation’s Returning Officer. I have known Ross Smith for 8 years. I will tell you about the Ross Smith I have came to know.  I also want you to know that some of these words come from Michael Shreenan.

I know I am supposed to be polite in this kind of event but the Ross Smith I know is a glorious bastard. Most of you would label him as ‘abrasive’; he is the quintessential trouble maker that we love to hate. Yes, he was passionate but he was also stubborn and churlish. A few years back, we spend a few full days a week over a couple of months in my office scanning and archiving over 40 years of documents and AGM reports initiated by him. Can you imagine then FUN I had with him?  

Some of you are (un)fortunate to have him as a friend. I do not have that privilege.  The first real conversation I had with him. He reminded me that we are not friends but only a professional worker/client relationship, but the strange thing is that over the years this non-friend will send you a yearly birthday text without you telling him your birth date or a work anniversary email. This non-friend will also check on you more frequently, visit you almost weekly to talk and argue with you about the current issues with council, Dept. so n so, bureaucrats A, or minister B., talk about what your organisation should be doing about them. At times, he will also disclose a tiny piece of his life story to you, about the many places he had lived in and things he have done all over Australia and New Zealand.

I found myself checking with my peers and colleagues and asking around about this strange 'client/member’.  Some will says that he is schizo or most often just a pain in the ass but those who are closer to him welcomes you into his multilayered inner circles. As he himself would say with a smirk on his face, “Congratulations…” You are now under his radar; someone he is happy to annoy. As a service provider, and community worker, you start measuring your successes in making some difference in the community by how many time Ross Smith visits you weekly and the time he investing in your organisation. Later on, he may just visit to say hello and have idle chit chat about politics or some other news of interests, even gossips about another ‘bad’ organisation and institution. That is the Ross Smith I know.

After receiving the bad news of his passing that day, I called a few people I know. One of them is my book keeper who has worked in the area and who knew Ross for over 20 years. She is also saddened by Ross passing. We chatted for a while about Ross and she told me how Charlie Bullivant and Ross used to watch and followed her walking around Redfern (Regent St) and Waterloo. She was intrigued and asked them why, they said they just want to make sure she is safe with no trouble from the locals. That is how this community is, community minded and looking after each other; people like the Oddjobbers and the Blindies. That was how Ross is in his unique own Ross Smith way...

I believe a lot of you have many great arguments with Ross in meetings or one on one. If you were lucky, you would have witnessed how he stormed out with the mandate from the Peoples Precinct or RedWatch or some other organisation that he was representing that day if he did not get his way. He was never a one man person.  Remember his Precinct is the PEOPLE’s Precinct!!! He was always representing the interest of his community even if sometimes we find his way misguided or unorthodox.  The Factory Community Centre did a volunteers montage project a few years back; which Simon presented earlier, he was asked what does he get from volunteering? If you remember his response was; “It is a community, it is a family, and you are part of a structure….” As we know, he wants what is best for the community, his community.

The Ross Smith we know would not rest until he gets the outcome that he wanted. He is just like a dog with a bone. He taught me a lot about his ways of dealing with people; bureaucrats and the system. I called it the Ross Smith’s methods; know who’s who in the jungle, leveraging and only talk to decision makers. When I received the news from Laura from Counterpoint, I was surprised to find myself crying hard in my office. I scared my students because only a few mins ago I was laughing with them having lunch walking back to the office. I have no idea the impact this Waterloo troublemaker passing has on me. I will miss his visits; NAB meetings will not be the same without him, even the chance to argue with him. I will miss his cheeky grins. I will miss Ross Smith, my dear non-friend.