It was Russell Ebert who welcomed Centacare to Alberton in 2015 as Port Adelaide prepared to take a stand against domestic violence.
In partnership with Centacare and the Department for Education, the club was about to break new ground in the AFL by launching a respectful relationships program for teenage boys, and Russell wanted in.
By his own admission, he had much to learn about gendered drivers of abuse, but he recognised there was primary prevention work that needed to be done in classrooms and he was keen to play his part.
Russell took us into the inner sanctum at Allan Scott Headquarters, introducing friendly faces along the way.
He joked with the kitchen crew that Robbie Gray would be around later to do the dishes and thanked long-time boot-studder Alfie Trebilcock for cleaning mud from his own wheels back in the day. These were the real club legends, Russell said, not him.
Ever-humble, he shrugged off his legend status, preferring to think of it as a way to use his influence – in this case, to open young minds around domestic violence, a hidden phenomenon when he was growing up.
“What is happening now is disgraceful, unacceptable and foreign to the way that I was brought up,’’ he’d later say of the national scourge in a 2018 research report on the Power to End Violence Against Women (PTEVAW) and Northern Territory-based NO MORE programs.
“It starts small, it might be a comment, a little push, a trip, a derogatory comment. That’s where it starts…. If you allow that to happen and not pull it up, well, what’s it going to be next time?’’
Every question we had about footy, Russell returned with one about Centacare and the role of community services in keeping women and children safe.
Later, during a workshop in the club’s lecture theatre with the entire playing group and senior coach Ken Hinkley, Russell listened intently as then Deputy Director Pauline Connelly unpicked the cycles of abuse and the club’s role in starting conversations around domestic violence and respectful relationships.
From that day on for the next six years, in the community and classrooms, at state-wide vigils or other awareness-raising events, the Ebert family presented a united front to challenge ideals of masculinity and gender-based attitudes.
Russell often spoke of their strong values and beliefs around how you treat others, reminding students of their own important role as future leaders and how they could chip away at gender norms that can potentially lead to unhealthy decision-making.
“When you were with Russell, the air was clear. He was real. There was no fancy footwork with Russell when you met with him – he left that for the field,” Director Pauline Connelly said.
“When we first met to speak about the PTEVAW progam, Russell recognised this was an area for him to discover more about, and he did.
“Russell became one of our greatest advocates and role models in this area, and we needed him.
“I will be forever grateful for the experience of working with Russell.”
At year’s end, the PTEVAW program will have visited more than 120 schools and engaged nearly 9000 students.
The enormity of Russell’s contribution cannot be underestimated. Vale Russell Ebert.