W. Les Boolidt Boolitha Russell spent his early years in rural Victoria and joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1965. He trained as a photographer in the Fleet Air Arm. His upbringing and beliefs proved incompatible with the values of the Navy and he requested and was granted an honourable discharge in 1970. For the next decade he worked as a photographer for the Victorian Education Department.
Russell helped establish the South Eastern Land Council and later served as its chairman. He also served as Honorary Cultural Officer with Aboriginal Education; co-founded the Mara Organisation involved in the struggle against Alcoa at Portland, Victoria, and worked with the Aboriginal Advancement League on changes to the Archaeological Act. In 1979 he assisted the North Queensland Land Council to set up the Aboriginal Mining Information Centre which became one of the world's largest indigenous research bodies.