Meet Russell Stewart: Canberra’s unassuming champion

Tim Gavel 11 January 2021 27
Russell Stewart

Russell Stewart representing Australia. Photo: Supplied.

There was a time in the 1980s and ’90s when Russell Stewart was better known on London’s streets than in his home city of Canberra.

When he walked into a pub in England, there was instant recognition.

Russell Stewart competing

Russell Stewart was well-known in the UK in the ’80s and ’90s because of the popularity of the sport of darts. Photo: Supplied.

That’s not to say that he didn’t have a profile in Australia as he rubbed shoulders with fellow elite athletes such as Rob de Castella, Michael Bevan and Laurie Daley at sports awards nights.

Recognition in the UK was due more to the fact that darts was treated as an elite sport, with television coverage to match. In Australia, there was a perception of overweight men in a smoke-filled pub, with a pint in one hand and darts in the other.

But nothing could be further from that image. Darts has grown to be a serious sport with competitors, such as Russell, dedicating hours of preparation, discipline and concentration to achieve at the highest level.

“When I was world number two, I trained six to seven hours a day, seven days a week, as well as working at the Bureau of Statistics,” says Russell.

Russell Stewart

At his peak, Russell Stewart was ranked at number two in the world. Photo: Supplied.

There was little difference between the professional approach taken by Russell and elite athletes in other sports.

And it paid off for him with considerable success – he won over 250 tournaments around the world.

In 1988 he finished runner up in the world’s richest darts tournament at the time in Tokyo. Back then, the winner pocketed around $30,000. Nowadays, the prize money is close to $500,000 for the major tournaments.

By 1989 Russell had reached number two in the world.

Says Russell: “I was living out of a suitcase in the 1980s and ’90s, travelling from tournament to tournament around the world.”

READ ALSO: Does the cycling community get a fair go in Canberra?

It was hard to make a living though from the sport in those days.

“There really wasn’t enough to live on playing darts in Australia. I still had to keep my job at the Bureau of Stats. I was there for 37 years, and they were very supportive.”

Around that time, Canberra hosted several major darts tournaments, including the Grand Masters, which was held in the ACT for almost 40 years. Russell won six times across three different decades.

With signature walk-on music – usually AC/DC or INXS – Russell, or ‘Rusty’ as he is known, had rock star status. I remember witnessing this for the first time at the Grand Masters at the Labor Club as he walked on backed by a raucous home crowd.

Major darts tournaments in Canberra are now few and far between. When Russell was growing up in the city, it was different.

“Back then, Canberra had a lot of little pubs and clubs with dartboards,” he remembers. It was an environment in which he would become familiar as he honed his skills in the sport over many years.

Before settling in Canberra, his parents had immigrated to Australia as ‘10-pound Poms’ with Russell and his sister.

His father played darts for Australia, and he guided his son into the sport.

“We played out of the Yowani Golf Club in the fathers and sons competition; I made the ACT team when I was 16 years old.”

Because he was underage, and with the Australian Championships being played in licensed clubs, he had to wait until he was 18 years of age to compete.

By 23 he made the Australian team for the World Cup, and he was on his way to becoming one of the world’s top players.

Fast-forward to the present day and Russell still plays in the Canberra League on Wednesday nights: “It’s hard to do it now without doing the hard training. It takes a lot of work to get to the top.”

READ ALSO: Zango helping to drive Raiders membership in 2021

At 60, he is enjoying life in retirement with his family but remains passionate about the sport which has given him so much.

“I’m the captain of the Darts Players Australia men’s, women’s and youth teams. Twelve years ago, I wasn’t making the team as a player, so I pulled back. When we go away with the team, I am basically the manager.”

Talking to Russell about the sport he loves you get the impression he will never completely walk away. But how could he walk away when it has been a major part of his life, providing so many experiences that add to life in so many ways?

What's Your Opinion?

Please login to post your comments, or connect with
27 Responses to Meet Russell Stewart: Canberra’s unassuming champion
Fiona Lovegrove Fiona Lovegrove 8:13 am 06 Mar 21

How did I miss This article? Great piece about a great friend 😁 No mention of the Pot Belly incident lol

Alison Wong Alison Wong 3:02 pm 14 Jan 21

Katherine Wong is this Jonno Wong s calling?

James Walsh James Walsh 9:08 pm 13 Jan 21

Luke Drinkwater Claude Gibson Rex Henderson

Darts and stats, perfect combo, what a life

Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:00 am 12 Jan 21

Why isn’t he being financially supported by CBR or CU?

ActewAGL aren’t as active in “community sponsorship” as they used to be.

Amanda Lowman Amanda Lowman 10:19 pm 11 Jan 21

Jack Morrow Lowman - how did we miss this? 😉

Jennifer Gee Jennifer Gee 10:09 pm 11 Jan 21

Top bloke and great family!

Tracey Hansen Tracey Hansen 9:19 pm 11 Jan 21

Great article Russell Stewart

Peter Manley Peter Manley 2:35 pm 11 Jan 21

Russell Stewart great overview of a sporting brilliant career, just missing the sentence about being a top bloke too! I did have a chuckle at paragraph 4, beers and..... Cheers Peter

John Bloxham John Bloxham 8:57 am 11 Jan 21

A great life Russell..darts..wife ..children..grandkids..awesome article..

David Vesey-Brown David Vesey-Brown 8:22 am 11 Jan 21

Its certainly a mullet of a champion

    Russell Stewart Russell Stewart 8:27 am 11 Jan 21

    David Vesey-Brown they were the go back then haha 😂

Clive Bennett Clive Bennett 8:13 am 11 Jan 21

Top article Rusty, I remember and played in most of the Canberra tournaments. I was also mistaken for being you in London at the Winmore Master and British Open in 1983 at the Rainbow Suit Kensington. My friend was mistaken for Terry Odea and me for you. After explaining that we were not you guy's, we were taken to a night club in London which was in a row of town houses, down 2 flights of stairs to this amazing underground sports bar. There we played over a dozen people winning every game, even throwing our darts backwards and playing with 4 inch nails. Those were the day's, great memories 🥰🎯

Jane Murray Jane Murray 6:58 am 11 Jan 21

Walked down streets in London with Rusty and Merrin Mcculloch in 1986 and people would stop and talk to him. I worked with Russell at the A B S for many years.

Janet Barker Janet Barker 2:14 am 11 Jan 21

Great article💕

Bob Sells Bob Sells 11:26 pm 10 Jan 21

I met Russ twice back in the 80s at the world masters rainbow suit kensington. Nice bloke. Made time to have a chat with us spectators. Also met Terry Odea, Kevin white ( bodge)

Rhodri Jones Rhodri Jones 11:01 pm 10 Jan 21

Great article Russell Stewart ...congratulations

Steve Bone Steve Bone 10:16 pm 10 Jan 21

Well Done Champ,, all the very best 💪👌🥃

TaoTao DeRover TaoTao DeRover 9:45 pm 10 Jan 21

🤩 The legend 👍

Gabby Shield Gabby Shield 9:39 pm 10 Jan 21

Harry who knew..

Michael Doyle Michael Doyle 9:31 pm 10 Jan 21

Great article Russell. I remember you working with my dad in the 80's at the ABS. I came and watched you in London at the world championship in mid 80's my God id never seen so many darts players in one place.👍🍻😏

    Russell Stewart Russell Stewart 11:05 pm 10 Jan 21

    Michael g’day mate, gee that was a while ago. Appreciated you coming in to see what it was about. I tried to tell your dad but not too sure if he really understood what I was doing.

    Michael Doyle Michael Doyle 11:11 pm 10 Jan 21

    Russell Stewart i remember dad saying to me that he encouraged you to have a crack on the big stage as you were v good . Maybe 1984-6.

    Some good old days were had during the stats years. Keep well

Don Taprell Don Taprell 9:16 pm 10 Jan 21

👏👏👏👏👏👏 nice Rusty Russell Stewart

By far the best I've played.

Good on ya mate. #legend

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

Region Group Pty Ltd

Search across the site