Bob Bellear

Last updated

Bob Bellear
Judge of the District Court of New South Wales
In office
Personal details
Robert William Bellear

(1944-04-17)17 April 1944
Died15 March 2005(2005-03-15) (aged 60)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Spouse(s)Kaye Williams
Alma mater UNSW (LLB 1978)

Robert William "Bob" Bellear (17 June 1944 – 15 March 2005) was an Australian social activist, lawyer and judge who was the first Aboriginal Australian judge. Bellear served as a judge of the District Court of New South Wales from 1996 until his death in 2005.

Aboriginal Australians term used to refer to some groups of Indigenous Australians

Aboriginal Australians are the various indigenous peoples of the Australian mainland, Tasmania, and often the Tiwi Islands. This group contains many distinct peoples that have developed across Australia for over 50,000 years. These peoples have a broadly shared, though complex, genetic history, but it is only in the last two hundred years that they have been defined and started to self identify as a single group. The definition of the term "Aboriginal" has changed over time and place, with the importance of family lineage, self identification and community acceptance all being of varying importance. In the past, Aboriginal Australians lived over large sections of the continental shelf and were isolated on many of the smaller offshore islands when the land was inundated at the start of the inter-glacial. However, they are considered distinct from the Torres Strait Islander people, despite extensive cultural exchange.

Judge official who presides over court proceedings

A judge is a person who presides over court proceedings, either alone or as a part of a panel of judges. The powers, functions, method of appointment, discipline, and training of judges vary widely across different jurisdictions. The judge is supposed to conduct the trial impartially and, typically, in an open court. The judge hears all the witnesses and any other evidence presented by the barristers or solicitors of the case, assesses the credibility and arguments of the parties, and then issues a ruling on the matter at hand based on his or her interpretation of the law and his or her own personal judgment. In some jurisdictions, the judge's powers may be shared with a jury. In inquisitorial systems of criminal investigation, a judge might also be an examining magistrate.

District Court of New South Wales

The District Court of New South Wales is the intermediate court in the judicial hierarchy of the Australian state of New South Wales. It is a trial court and has an appellate jurisdiction. In addition, the Judges of the Court preside over a range of tribunals. In its criminal jurisdiction, the Court may deal with all serious criminal offences except murder, treason and piracy. The Court's civil jurisdiction is generally limited to claims less than A$750,000.


Early life

Bellear was born in the far north-east of New South Wales, and grew up near the town of Mullumbimby. His grandfather was a Ni-Vanuatu man who was blackbirded to Australia to work on a sugar plantation, and his grandmother was an Aboriginal Australian woman from Minjerribah (also known as Stradbroke Island) in Queensland. His other grandfather had been blackbirded from the Solomon Islands. Bellear was one of nine children. [1]

New South Wales State of Australia

New South Wales is a state on the east coast of Australia. It borders Queensland to the north, Victoria to the south, and South Australia to the west. Its coast borders the Tasman Sea to the east. The Australian Capital Territory is an enclave within the state. New South Wales' state capital is Sydney, which is also Australia's most populous city. In December 2018, the population of New South Wales was over 8 million, making it Australia's most populous state. Just under two-thirds of the state's population, 5.1 million, live in the Greater Sydney area. Inhabitants of New South Wales are referred to as New South Welshmen.

Vanuatu Country in Oceania

Vanuatu, officially the Republic of Vanuatu, is a Pacific island country located in the South Pacific Ocean. The archipelago, which is of volcanic origin, is 1,750 kilometres (1,090 mi) east of northern Australia, 540 kilometres (340 mi) northeast of New Caledonia, east of New Guinea, southeast of the Solomon Islands, and west of Fiji.

Blackbirding Coerced labour, mainly in the south-east Pacific area

Blackbirding involves the coercion of people through deception and/or kidnapping to work as unpaid or poorly paid labourers in countries distant to their native land. The term has been most commonly applied to the large-scale taking of people indigenous to the numerous islands in the Pacific Ocean during the 19th and 20th centuries. These blackbirded people were called Kanakas or South Sea Islanders. The owners, captains and crew of the ships involved in the acquisition of these labourers were termed blackbirders. The demand for this kind of cheap labour principally came from European colonists in New South Wales, Peru, Queensland, Samoa, New Caledonia, Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii, Mexico and Guatemala. Labouring on sugarcane, cotton and coffee plantations in these lands was the main usage of blackbirded labour but they were also exploited in other industries.

He left school early, but could not get a job, a fact which Bellear often attributed to racism. Instead, he joined the Royal Australian Navy, where he was trained in mechanical engineering and clearance diving. He was a successful rugby union player for the Navy's representative side. He was the first Indigenous person to achieve the rank of petty officer. Bellear left the Navy in 1968, with several qualifications, including masonry and fitting and turning. He was then able to easily find a job. [1]

Racism race or ethnic-based discrimination

Racism is the belief in the superiority of one race over another. It may also mean prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against other people because they are of a different race or ethnicity. Modern variants of racism are often based in social perceptions of biological differences between peoples. These views can take the form of social actions, practices or beliefs, or political systems in which different races are ranked as inherently superior or inferior to each other, based on presumed shared inheritable traits, abilities, or qualities.

Royal Australian Navy Naval warfare branch of the Australian Defence Force

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) is the naval branch of the Australian Defence Force. Following the Federation of Australia in 1901, the ships and resources of the separate colonial navies were integrated into a national force, called the Commonwealth Naval Forces. Originally intended for local defence, the navy was granted the title of 'Royal Australian Navy' in 1911, and became increasingly responsible for defence of the region.

Mechanical engineering Engineering discipline and economic branch

Mechanical engineering is the discipline that applies engineering, physics, engineering mathematics, and materials science principles to design, analyze, manufacture, and maintain mechanical systems. It is one of the oldest and broadest of the engineering disciplines.

For some time Bellear lived in Redfern with his wife Kaye Williams, whom he had met while in the Navy. The suburb had a substantial Aboriginal population at the time. Bellear established the Aboriginal Housing Corporation there in 1972, and throughout the 1970s was a director of both the Aboriginal Medical Service and the Aboriginal Legal Service. Bellear was the leader of a campaign to prevent landlords in Redfern from evicting Aboriginal tenants, and his work led to the Whitlam government transferring ownership of The Block to the Aboriginal Housing Corporation. [1]

Redfern, New South Wales Suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Redfern is an inner-city suburb of Sydney located 3 kilometres south of the Sydney central business district and is part of the local government area of the City of Sydney. Strawberry Hills is a locality on the border with Surry Hills. The area experienced the process of gentrification in recent years.

The Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) was established in Redfern from 1971. It was the first Aboriginal community controlled health service in Australia, and it is now a key Indigenous community organisation, from which most Aboriginal medical services around the State of New South Wales have stemmed. The AMS pioneered the concept of Aboriginal community-controlled health care, and as part of its broader objectives, the AMS aims to improve the health standards in Aboriginal communities across Australia

The Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) is an organisation providing legal assistance to Aboriginal Australians in New South Wales (NSW) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The ALS was the first operation of its kind in Australia. It began in 1970 with Graham McDonald and other volunteers providing free legal advice and representation to Aboriginal people in inner-Sydney from a shopfront in Redfern.

Bellear would regularly see the patterns of intimidation and harassment which the New South Wales Police practised against the Aboriginal community in Redfern. [1]

Intimidation is intentional behavior that "would cause a person of ordinary sensibilities" to fear injury or harm. It is not necessary to prove that the behavior was so violent as to cause mean terror or that the victim was actually frightened.

Harassment covers a wide range of behaviors of an offensive nature. It is commonly understood as behavior that demeans, humiliates or embarrasses a person, and it is characteristically identified by its unlikelihood in terms of social and moral reasonableness. In the legal sense, these are behaviors that appear to be disturbing, upsetting or threatening. They evolve from discriminatory grounds, and have an effect of nullifying or impairing a person from benefiting their rights. When these behaviors become repetitive, they are defined as bullying.

In 1972, Bellear decided that he would study law. He completed his Higher School Certificate studies at Sydney Technical College, and entered a law course at the University of New South Wales. He became only the second Indigenous person to graduate from that university (after Pat O'Shane) when he graduated in 1978. He was admitted to the New South Wales Bar in 1979. As a barrister, he represented many Aboriginal people in criminal trials, and was often instructed by the Aboriginal Legal Service. In 1987 Bellear was appointed as an assisting counsel to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. [1]

The Higher School Certificate (HSC) is the credential awarded to secondary school students who successfully complete senior high school level studies in New South Wales, Australia. It was first introduced in 1967, with the last major revision coming into effect in 2019. It is currently developed and managed by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA).

Sydney Technical College college in Australia

The Sydney Technical College, now known as the TAFE New South Wales Sydney Institute, is a technical school established in 1878, that superseded the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts. The college is one of Australia's oldest technical education institutions.

University of New South Wales Australian university

The University of New South Wales is an Australian public research university located in the Sydney suburb of Kensington. Out of all Australian universities, UNSW has the highest median ATAR and attracts the highest number of top 500 students. Established in 1949, it is ranked 4th in Australia, 43rd in the world according to the 2020 QS World University Rankings. The university comprises nine faculties, through which it offers bachelor, master and doctoral degrees. The main campus is located on a 38-hectare (94-acre) site in the Sydney suburb of Kensington, 7 km from the Sydney central business district. The creative arts faculty, UNSW Art & Design, is located in Paddington, UNSW Canberra is located at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra and sub-campuses are located in the Sydney CBD, the suburbs of Randwick and Coogee. Research stations are located throughout the state of New South Wales. UNSW is one of the founding members of the Group of Eight, a coalition of Australian research-intensive universities, and of Universitas 21, a global network of research universities. It has international exchange and research partnerships with over 200 universities around the world.

In 1993 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws by Macquarie University. On 17 May 1996, Bellear was appointed a judge of the District Court of New South Wales, the first Indigenous person to be appointed to any court in Australia. He served as a judge until his death. [2] During this time he mentored young Indigenous lawyers, and encouraged students to attend his courtroom. He did not try to remain in Sydney, instead preferring the rural circuit, where he could visit Aboriginal communities in regional centres, and bring students into his courtroom. [1]

Personal life

In his later life, Bellear was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, contracted during his time with the Royal Australian Navy, when as an apprentice engineer he was exposed to asbestos fibers. Bellear died at his home on 15 March 2005, wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt. He was survived by his wife, two children Joanne and Kali (a third son, Malu died in his early twenties in 1996) and four grandchildren. The Government of New South Wales granted Bellear a state funeral, held at the Sydney Town Hall. It was attended by about 2000 guests, including Governor of New South Wales Marie Bashir and former Chief Justice of New South Wales Laurence Street. [2] [3]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Manning, Peter (17 March 2005). "From the depths to the heights". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  2. 1 2 "State funeral for Bellear". SBS. 22 March 2005. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  3. Presenter: Mark Colvin; Reporter: Marie Scoutas (22 March 2005). "First Aboriginal judge farewelled". PM. ABC Local Radio.