Wednesday, 4 December 2019
Francis, Mr Russell John
It's with great sadness that I rise today to pay tribute to a friend in Cairns, a media personality who recently lost his battle with cancer. Russell Francis was a larrikin, a family man and a well-respected photographer. He had a long and illustrious career with The Cairns Postbetween the 1970s and 1990s. Russell was also a mentor and is known for taking young photographers under his wing to show them the ropes. If there was news that was happening in our region, you could bet your bottom dollar that Russell would be out there catching the images for readers. Russell covered many of the biggest stories in our region during those years—the glory days, you could say, when print was king.
His images are displayed not only in The Cairns Post but also in national and international publications. Russell covered the drama of the Daintree rainforest blockade back in the 1980s, when people chained themselves to trees and buried themselves in the path of bulldozers to prevent construction of the road. It's pleasing to see that those involved in the protest paid their respects to him on social media after learning of his passing. That just goes to show the high esteem that Russell was held in by all of those he came in contact with. Russell was also there when tree-sitter Manfred Stevens and the anti-sky-rail protesters opposed the construction of the 7.5 kilometre cable between Cairns and Kuranda. Russell was there on 4 February 1987, when the students from Cairns State High School, including my son, were returning from a school camp and the bus they were travelling on crashed down the side of the Gillies Range. Eight students were tragically killed in the crash, which also saw injuries to a further 32 students, two teachers and the driver. Outside of the hard news story photographs, Russell also captured visits to our region by celebrities and royals, including when the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, and her children stayed at Bedarra Island.
Outside of being a newshound, Russell was a keen gardener and a rare and exotic fruit enthusiast. Russell was also an animal lover and was very heavily involved with the Young Animal Protection Society—or YAPS, as it's commonly known in Cairns. I had the absolute pleasure of knowing Russell when I was a crocodile farmer, many years before I entered into the world of politics. He took numerous photographs of me unloading crocodiles caught up at Pormpuraaw, when I used to do crocodile shows at Wild World. Many of those pictures are displayed in my office in Cairns and here in Canberra.
You could not come across a finer and more respected person than Russell Francis. He might have gone, sadly, but the images he took throughout his career will live on for an eternity. Russell is survived by his children, Aaron, Nathan, Brendan and Sarah, and grandchildren, Lillian, Ashton, Ivy and Claudia—the last one born the day before he passed away. Rest in peace, mate.