IN a matter of days, Newcastle has lost two of its most respected Aboriginal elders with the death of Ron Gordon this week coming a day after Bill Smith passed away.
Uncle Ron, father of former Knights player Ashley, died of a heart problem on Tuesday. He was 78.
A Barkindji man, he hailed from Brewarrina but spent most of his adult life in Cardiff.
He was dedicated to his family and advancing Aboriginal people and culture. He loved helping others and was a promoter of education.
He wore plenty of hats, and will be remembered by many for running the Kirinari Aboriginal Hostel; helping to establish and grow the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council; and serving on a range of boards and committees, including with the Yarnteen Corporation, University of Newcastle and Lake Macquarie council.
Ron Gordon was born in Bourke and spent his early years in the state's north-west.
He left school early, and worked a variety of jobs "from stockman, to fencing, mechanic and for a lot of years shearing", Ashley said.
In his 20s he met Diane, five years his junior. He asked to marry her soon after, but was denied by Diane's mother who was wary of the age gap.
Undeterred, when Ron Gordon came across a group of echidnas, a treat of the time, he returned and presented his find to Diane's mother and sisters, who agreed to the union.
"As the story goes, if it wasn't for the porcupines he wouldn't have had a chance," Ashley said.
Ron and Diane had three children, Douglas, Leanne and Ashley, who they began raising out west.
"Recognising the limited opportunities, he decided to pack up his family and moved," Ashley said.
The Gordons moved in 1979 to Sydney, initially, but soon relocated north, finding a home in Garden Suburb.
"We looked at a hostel in Merewether, in Fredrick Street, and then we saw the hostel at Garden Suburb. So which one do you think country people chose?" Ashley recalled with a laugh.
From there, Ron Gordon poured his time and energy into his children and Aboriginal people.
The family purchased a home in Cardiff and Ron and Diane became managers of the Kirinari Aboriginal Hostel, where they would really become known as Aunty Di and Uncle Ron.
Kirinari, which translates to "place of learning", provided boarding accommodation for indigenous boys attending high school.
It homed the likes of Greg Inglis, Timana Tahu and Tyrone Roberts, boys who would go on to become NRL stars.
While Diane continued to run hostels, Uncle Ron became involved with Awabakal and other organisations like the university. Pro Vice-Chancellor Nathan Towney first met Uncle Ron, like many others, after relocating from regional NSW to complete tertiary studies.
"Ron was the first person to really welcome me into this community, and I am forever grateful for the advice and the guidance and support he has given me over the years," Mr Towney said.
"But I also know the impact he has had more broadly with his work.
"He had that special way of making people feel accepted and connected ... he just had a special knack of helping young people that are new to the area feel safe, and culturally secure, and that's a real gift.
"Uncle Ronny was one of the best I've seen at being able to do that."
Ashely said in his dad's later years, he was probably best known as a "fanatical golfer". And in an online tribute, Charlestown Golf Club's pro shop recognised him as a "much loved member".
"We all loved Ron's conversation and presence and he will certainly be missed by all of us," its post said. "Ron was so proud of his family and we were always so happy listening to his many stories."
Mr Towney said it was Ron Gordon's personality that endeared him to all.
"I'll never forget the first time we went and had Chinese at Cardiff," he said.
"I went and picked him up and we sat down at the restaurant, but by the time we left we had 10 people sitting with us.
"Just because he had that persona and aura around him, people wanted to be around him.
"They wanted to be part of the laughs that he created and the stories that he told.
"He just attracted people and brought people together, and I think that's a true testament to the person that he was.
"And to me, that's what eldership is about - providing a safe space for other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and a space where people want to be and people want to learn.
"And Uncle Ronny provided that to not only his family, but the broader Aboriginal community."
There will be an online service to farewell Ron Gordon in the coming weeks.