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From Porsches to poverty - how one Sydney lawyer nearly lost it all…

MEDIA RELEASE - Sydney: In 2011, Russell Hodge was living life in the fast lane as a high powered corporate lawyer in Sydney. In June 2011, he had impulsively resigned as a Director of REX Airlines and plunged himself into self-imposed retirement. By the following June he was standing in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris aged 66 years, a world away from his waterfront home in Cronulla, about to embark on a six month study trip at the world famous Sorbonne University. What followed was a series of heartbreaking events that led to him sleeping homeless on the streets of Sydney, estranged from his family and friends and struggling with a severe mental illness. In August this year Russell will launch his new book, a memoir entitled The Oldest Student at the Sorbonne. The book is a thought provoking tale about one man’s self-reflective journey from high flying deals, to friendships with gypsies and beggars in Paris and then to the homeless community in Sydney.

Over the course of the book Russell met many people who changed his perceptions about himself and about life, including one young destitute woman in Paris who dramatically changed his view of himself. The book details his struggle with severe depression and his treatment at a psychiatric hospital in Sydney. The Oldest Student at the Sorbonne is a powerful insight into his journey to the depths of despair, to recovery and everything in between - and explores two of our country’s biggest issues – mental health and homelessness.

Homelessness has increased in Australia by 13.7% in 5 years according to the 2016, ABS Census, 58% of these people are male. NSW alone has experienced a 37% increase since 2011. Interestingly there has been a 28% increase in Australians over 55 years experiencing homelessness. Men who experience homelessness on a medium or long term basis have been found to experience higher rates of mental illness than males with a stable housing history.

The book’s launch in August coincides with Homelessness Week Australia. Homelessness Week is an annual event coordinated by Homelessness Australia to raise awareness around people experiencing homelessness, as well as the issues they face, and the action needed to achieve enduring solutions. In 2019, Homelessness Week will run from the 4th -10th August with a theme “Housing Ends Homelessness’’.

Russell says, “Next time you walk past a person sitting on the street, sleeping on the footpath looking dishevelled and homeless - please remember this is a human being; maybe mentally ill, destitute but certainly not there by choice. AT aged 66, I studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris; when I returned to Sydney, I left a comfortable home, family and friends, and slept rough. After years of treatment and support I recovered. I hope my book helps to provide understanding and compassion for homeless and mentally ill people – it can happen to anyone.”

The Oldest Student at the Sorbonne is an inspiring tale of one man’s intercontinental journey to find himself and deal with an overwhelming mental illness. It is a beautifully crafted tale that will appeal to readers who have struggled with mental illness themselves or through their loved ones.

The book is now available for purchase from Amazon or via from Russell’s website

About the Author

At aged 16 years of age Russell started an economics degree at the University of Sydney. After graduating and completing a post graduate diploma in teaching he taught at Ashfield Boys High School. Two years later he commenced a law degree at the Australian National University. He was a teacher and resident boarding house master at Canberra Boys Grammar School while studying law. After graduation he practised as a solicitor in his father’s legal practise. He practised conveyancing, personal injury, and commercial law before developing an aviation law speciality. He developed business negotiating skills and specialist aviation legal knowledge. After acting for Consolidated Press, Ansett Airlines and various finance companies, in 1994, he joined Pel-Air Aviation as a director, shareholder and in-house legal counsel. In 2005 he negotiated the sale of Pel-Air shares to Regional Express Holdings. When REX floated on the Sydney Stock Exchange he joined the REX Board of Directors. In June 2011 he resigned from the REX board and twelve months later went to the Sorbonne University in Paris to study philosophy. Despite his language difficulties, he successfully completed a semester of studies. Within six months of his return to Australia he became ill and left his home family and friends to live rough on the streets of Sydney. He led a peripatetic existence for some years alternating between living on the street, living alone in Kings Cross and on the New Wales South Coast, and staying at odds times with friends and family. After months of treatment at South Pacific Private Hospital and years of extensive psychiatric treatment he gradually recovered. After a long and painful recovery, Russell now leads a normal life enveloped by his wife, family and friends.

Russell Hodge is available for interview by arrangement.

To arrange an interview, attend the book launch or request a review copy of the book - please contact Aisling Brady (nee Gilhooly) - Publicist on M: 0424 520 345 or E:

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