Ruth Durack was born in Darwin, a member of the pastoralist family, but she was a traveller. She had a very successful professional career in the US before returning to Australia in 2004 with a goal of improving the streetscapes of WA’s cities and towns.
As the first director of the WA Urban Design Centre, a collaboration between the State Government Department of Planning and Infrastructure and the Curtin and WA Universities, she brought her passion to making urban spaces better places to live, and taught a post-graduate study program at UDC.
At the 2005 National Urban Design Forum in Geelong, Ruth made a presentation which well illustrated her humility, wisdom, passion and humanity as she applied those attributes to people and the places they live.
Sally Malone, landscape architect and urban designer from Albany, WA, has sent the following tribute:
‘I had known Ruth Durack only a short time, as she was brought (back) to WA to establish the Urban Design Centre from a highly successful career in the USA, but Ruth had a generosity of spirit that was immediately warm and engaging. This farewell, then, will not be an obituary recounting her much-awarded career and achievements – brilliant as they were – but more a eulogy to a woman who was clearly an innovative and incisive thinker with the grace to deliver her observations with a velvet glove.
Ruth passed away on 4 July after an all-too short but fierce battle with lung cancer, having lived for the previous five years or so back in her birth country and close to her family. She was the inaugural Director of the UDC and organized the UDF conference in WA in 2007, which is where many UDF members will remember first meeting her.
In the years that she was Director of the UDC, I came to appreciate her particular brand of dry wit, the way she would look at design issues from a completely different view and test and prod ‘accepted wisdoms’, wide ranging and humorous discussion about Australian culture and design, and that wonderful sense of dignity that she carried. There were also lifts to interviews (along with gentle pep talks), weekends spent in her spare room on trips up from my country town home to Perth and many more acts of generosity and kindness.’