Dr Russell Dickens OAM (BVSc ’54 MVSc ’75)
Dr Russell Dickens receives the Alumni Award for Community Achievement in recognition of his landmark efforts to protect Australian wildlife, and his 50 years of service to the people of western Sydney as a veterinarian and local government representative.
Russell has been described as the “father” of koala medicine. In the 1970s, he was one of the first veterinarians in the country to study diseases of the koala systematically and provide advice on their clinical management. His pioneering master’s research laid the foundation for today’s expanding discipline of wildlife medicine.
Russell is a founding board member of the Australian Koala Foundation, where he is an authority on koala research, conservation and policy. He was also instrumental in setting up the Australasian section of the Wildlife Disease Association, now a thriving organisation with hundreds of members.
“In the early days, there was so little we knew and so much to learn regarding native animals, especially koalas,” Russell says. “My interest stimulated many other people, and today there are a whole lot of scientists and veterinarians in the field investigating a wide range of concerns related to koala health and preservation.”
Since 1960, Russell has also served the pet owners, farmers and wildlife carers of Blacktown City through his busy private veterinary practice. His after-hours facility, which he staffs almost exclusively himself, has provided a vital emergency service to sick and injured animals in the local area. Russell is a mentor and inspiration to the next generation of veterinarians, and has provided on-the-job education and support to more than 30 early-career vets. He has also been a vocal advocate for responsible pet ownership.
In tandem with his veterinary career, Russell has served his community as an independent councillor on Blacktown City Council for the past 33 years. He held the position of mayor from 1987 to 1988 and since 2012 has been Deputy Mayor. Throughout his council service, Russell has focussed on managing the complex changes that have occurred during Blacktown’s transformation from a rural area into one of Australia’s most densely populated local government areas.
Recently, he has helped the council to improve the control and treatment of stray animals in the area and the conditions at the Blacktown Animal Holding Facility. He has collaborated with the University’s Faculty of Veterinary Science to secure their participation in the council’s desexing program.
Russell has also dedicated himself to enriching the life of his local community in a range of other roles that span multicultural services, the Salvation Army and Rotary. His dedication to the welfare of animals, especially the koala, was recognised with a Medal of the Order of Australia in 1992. “To have an interesting life,” says Russell, “you need to have many lives.”