Discovering Alex Russell: The Man and His Legacy
by Neil Crafter and John Green
Alex Russell is regarded as perhaps Australia’s finest ever home-grown golf course architect. He served as the Australian partner of the famed Scottish architect Dr Alister MacKenzie in the design and construction of the West Course at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, and was solely responsible for the design of Yarra Yarra, Royal Melbourne’s East Course, Lake Karrinyup in Perth and Paraparaumu Beach in New Zealand, all highly rated courses. However, he is important to the story of Australian golf for much more than just golf course design as he was a champion golfer, winning the 1924 Australian Open as an amateur, amongst numerous other national and state titles.
Discovering Alex Russell: The Man and his Legacy by Neil Crafter and John Green uses detailed text, period archival photographs, maps and plans to bring together the many threads of Russell’s life. The book commences by discussing the emigration of several of Alex Russell’s forebears from Scotland to Tasmania. Philip Russell (Alex Russell’s great half-uncle) was the first of several brothers to emigrate to central Tasmania in 1831, and other brothers and cousins followed, initially to Tasmania, and then to the Western Districts of Victoria. Alex Russell’ great uncle, George Russell, in 1837, was one of the earliest settlers in the Western District, while Alex’s grandfather, Alexander Russell, settled in the Beaufort area of Victoria in 1847 and named his property ‘Mawallok’. The history of this well-known Merino stud is covered in the book, along with Alex’s achievement in becoming one of the most successful breeders of Merino rams and ewes of his time.
The book covers Alex’s early life, including some pranks while living in Osborne House (a historic residence in Geelong) with his parents Philip and Mary, his schooling in Geelong, to England and Scotland, then back to Geelong where he attended Geelong Grammar. In 1912 he enrolled to ‘read’ Engineering at Cambridge University, where he was studying when World War I was declared. He was one of those Australians in England to enlist early in the British Expeditionary Forces in October 1914, as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery. Russell was buried alive by an incoming German shell during the Battle of the Somme, later earning the Military Cross in 1918 for bravery in France, and ended the war as an Acting Major in charge of his own battery. The description of his early years in that conflict are based heavily on his own diary and the war diaries of his units.
Alex Russell was also the Confidential Secretary to Stanley Bruce, (later Lord Bruce) the Prime Minister of Australia, when Bruce went to London in 1923 to attend the Imperial Conference. Various uncles and cousins had been involved in politics as Members of Parliament, as were relatives of his wife Jess (nee Fairbairn) and Alex Russell’s political interests went as far as standing as an independent for the seat of Ballaarat in the 1940 Federal Election, but he failed in his bid.
When World War II came, Russell again served his country admirably, enlisting as a Major in the Reserve Military Forces before being appointed in 1941 as the Deputy Commissioner of the Australian Red Cross service in the Middle East. Upon his return to Australia in 1942 Russell joined the AIF and was sent to New Guinea, where he was mentioned in dispatches and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. In 1943 General Blamey personally asked Russell to take on the task of repatriating back to Australia those men who had been prisoners of war of the Japanese, and Russell was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Red Cross to facilitate this task, a role Russell held until the end of 1945. While the care-free youth from before World War I was quieter and more introverted after his experiences in that war, it was Russell’s experiences in the repatriation of POW’s from a number of Japanese prison camps at the end of World War II that he never fully recovered from. For his efforts in this field, Alex Russell, was appointed a Knight of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in 1948.
The biography naturally has a bias towards his golfing exploits, both as a player and a golf course architect, with separate chapters on his golf career, his main golf courses and his golf design philosophies. Discovering Alex Russell is a handsomely illustrated and detailed biography of a man who did so much for golf in Australia. It is a fascinating way to discover more about Alex Russell the man, his life and his golf courses.
Discovering Alex Russell is a full-colour hardback book of 256 pages copiously illustrated by period photographs – many sourced from the Russell family archives – and other illustrations including Russell’s golf course plans, sketches and reports. The book has been published by Ryan Publishing of Melbourne and five-times Open Champion Peter Thomson kindly agreed to pen the Foreword. The research of the late Hedley Ham into Alex Russell’s life and work was a cornerstone of the book and it is dedicated to his memory.