Local First Nations Artist Recognised with Prestigious Award

Russell Smith
Russell Smith

Russell Smith has a quiet but commanding presence and when he takes to the stage, with his boomerang in hand, it can feel like the audience are collectively holding their breath waiting for that first deep vibration.

The Pitjantjatjara man and Tamborine Mountain local has a passion for music and his long-standing achievements in the music world have been recognised by the South Australian Music Hall of Fame.

In November Russell, or Rusty as he’s affectionately known, was inducted into the Hall of Fame recognising his standing in the music industry.

Hailing from the Umeewarra Mission in Port Augusta, Rusty was part of the stolen generation and having his induction take place at the Umeewarra Downtown Festival was an emotional experience.

He is the fourth First Nation’s artist to be inducted following in the footsteps of the late Archie Roach AC, the late Ruby Hunter and band No Fixed Address.

Through his music he has travelled the land and around the world, playing alongside Tommy Emmanuel, the legendary Sixto Rodriguez, and with international composers Peter Sculthorpe and Rupert Gregson-Williams. 

Russell recently played yidaki for Ms Graca Machel, former First Lady of both Mozambique and South Africa. Russell had also played for Ms Machel’s husband the late Nelson Mandela, as well as Xanana Gusmao and Muhammed Ali.

In 1996 he founded the First Nations indie-rock band Brolga and is one of the classical trio in Manta pairing the yidaki with the guitar and cello to create an ethereal sound.

Russell said he was incredibly honoured to stand alongside renowned artists such as Cold Chisel, The Masters Apprentices and the Little River Band.

“It’s been a good, long hard 30 years working in the industry and being inducted into it is very important,” Russell said.

“Paul Kelly was inducted the week before me.”

“There are not many Aboriginal artists inducted into the Hall of Fame. Archie Roach was the first and I’m the fourth.”

Chair of the AMC South Australia Music Hall of Fame, Dr Enrico Morena said Russell acts a role model for all South Australians and shows what can be achieved as an individual and for the greater First Nations community.

Russell has a passion for supporting emerging artists, particularly other First Nations artists and believed receiving this accolade would inspire others to follow in his footsteps.

Recently he has been bringing diverse local musicians to the library for a series of concerts called Stories and Songs which have been hugely successful.

“It’s important to give back to the community and share the young artists’ stories.”

In 2022 he brought Paul Kelly to the mountain for Rockin’ the Rainforest at Tamborine Mountain State School.