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Community gathers to remember Ross Leslie Smith (1941–2016)

Alexandria Town Hall was packed with tenants, friends, agency workers, bureaucrats and politicians for a celebration of Ross Smith’s contribution to his community on November 18.

Ross Smith: Grass roots activist, compassionate supporter, uncompromising advocate, faithful friend … and sorely missed. Photo: Kings Cross Community Centre

Ross Smith: Grass roots activist, compassionate supporter, uncompromising advocate, faithful friend … and sorely missed. Photo: Kings Cross Community Centre

Michael Shreenan from The Factory anchored the morning, which was opened with an Acknowledgement of Country by Auntie Millie Ingram and closed by the Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon on behalf of The South Sydney Herald and South Sydney Uniting Church.

Images of Ross were on display around the room and during a tribute at the beginning of the memorial. A video by Clare Lewis of a recent Tour of Beauty showed Ross talking about his favourite subject – the Waterloo Estate and public housing. Those gathered heard Ross in his own words as Simon Shabshay, a fellow Neighbourhood Advisory Board (NAB) representative, read Ross’s contribution to the 2012 RedWater montage Volunteers… the Heart of our Community

“When you live in an area, you get to know people and you get involved in the area. I’ve associated with different organisations over that period… and you sort of get kidnapped! You become involved in the direction of them, the policies, where they’re going and what they attempt to do …

What do I get out of it? It’s a community; it’s a family; you’re part of a structure. Call it what you like, you’re part of the area that you live in. When people ask why I become involved in community work like this, I tell them that it’s because I’d like to think that one day someone would help me. And why be scared? It’s a community – if you have any concern for the people around you, if you’d like to have friends, be able to nod to people as you go down the street and say hello to them … it’s only a small extension from that to ask them how they’re feeling today and having a brief conversation with them. It’s about being friendly; talking to people and relating to people. In the inner city in particular, it can be a very lonely place if you don’t want to talk to people.

So don’t be scared – it can’t bite you!

Volunteering is your choice, as far as what you get involved in, and the degree to which you become involved.”

Geoff Turnbull on behalf of REDWatch dedicated the song “Across the Western Suburbs” to Ross.

Speakers including close friends Jose Perez, Dianna Whitworth and Rozita Dei Leoni covered the range of Ross’s involvements. The speakers were either involved locally with Ross or in his activities regionally or at a state level representing tenants.

Brett Louat and Michael Modder from Housing NSW, an agency of the NSW Department of Family and Community Services, spoke on behalf of the large number of bureaucrats Ross had dealt with over the years, many of whom were present. Tanya Plibersek spoke because Ross was a very active member of the Labor Party, involved on many ALP committees at various levels of government.

Finally, Bill Yan from South Sydney Community Aid (SSCA) and Katherine Johnston from the Kings Cross Community Centre spoke representing community organisations. Over the last 30-40 years Ross was on boards of management at SSCA, the Factory Community Centre, the Central Sydney Region Public Tenants Council, Waterloo NAB, Social Housing Tenant Advisory Committee and other organisations.

A life spent in service to the community – Garry Mallard

The public housing sector mourns the loss of one of its most colourful characters, long-time Waterloo resident, advocate and activist.

Ross passed away unexpectedly while on Waterloo Green in the heart of the community he loved so much. He had been running one of the many regular errands his community depended upon and appears to have passed away relatively peacefully.

He was relentless in his pursuit of fair treatment for social housing tenants and worked tirelessly to give meaning to often cynical Tenant Participation processes. Ross’s capacity to analyse and assess the risk of policies on the run and in every detail was formidable. His powers of recall and his intimate knowledge of social housing history were matched by few.

Sometimes abrasive and often misjudged, Ross’s commitment to his community was completely selfless and his many acts of compassion in support of the elderly and disadvantaged have been too long overlooked by those who saw only the fierce and uncompromising advocate. Few have given more time and effort to the affordable housing sector and with such passion as Ross and his death is an incalculable loss to grass roots activism.

Ross will be missed by community members, friends, colleagues and adversaries alike, who will draw some solace from the certain knowledge that any issues the residents of the afterlife may be experiencing right now will be well and truly sorted by the time we arrive.

Plenus annis abiit, plenus honoribus
(He is gone from us, full of years and full of honours)

A tribute page for Ross with many of the addresses, photos and other information about the service on the REDWatch website

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