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Mourners honour first Aboriginal judge at state funeral

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 22 March 2005

Australia's first Aboriginal judge, Bob Bellear, has been given a state funeral at Sydney's Town Hall today.

Family, friends, politicians and legal colleagues joined a crowd of more than 1,000 mourners to remember a man they described as a compassionate, quiet achiever committed to law and justice and a constant struggle against racism.

Judge Bellear died last week aged 60 of cancer, which was caused by exposure to asbestos when he was a fitter and turner in the Navy during the 1960s.

He graduated with a law degree from the University of New South Wales in 1974 and was made a District Court Judge in 1996.

Judge Bellear was a strong advocate of Aboriginal rights and spent three years assisting the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Justice Virginia Bell was a friend of Judge Bellear's since his first days as a barrister.

She told the gathering of the compassionate approach he brought to his cases.

"When he spoke on behalf of his clients, he talked from a position of an understanding of disadvantage and such innate decency, that he made himself a very powerful advocate," she said.

She also spoke of the respect he commanded among his colleagues.

"He ran his court like anyone runs their court, but we've all got our own style, and his was a very nice style," she said.

"It was a courteous court, and he was, as everyone has said, a fair and compassionate judge."

Before his legal career, Judge Bellear was involved in the Aboriginal tent embassy and was a co-founder of the Aboriginal housing company in the Sydney suburb of Redfern in 1972

Current housing company director Mick Mundine said Judge Bellear "did his part" for Indigenous people.

"We know education is one of the greatest things for our people and for what Bob achieved - it was just unbelievable... he succeeded a lot in his life," he said.

Other speakers at the memorial service today expressed hope that the causes he supported continue to develop after his death.

Judge Bellear's brother Sol reflected on their early days as politicised youths.

"Some of the things that we did, I think if Bob was on the bench back in those days he would have jailed himself," he said.

Judge Bellear was also credited with running a cordial court and brother Sol read from a letter from an offender whose case had been heard by the judge.

"Your equality and good humour stay with me though it has taken some time now for me to write this and make closure. Good things come of bad things, I wish you all the very best," the letter said.

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