TEXT review

Something unforgettable

review by Ali Cobby Eckermann


Lisa Bellear
Aboriginal Country
UWAP, Perth WA 2018
ISBN 9781742589756
Pb 96pp AUD22.99



Tall. Loud. Strong! You always knew when Lisa Bellear entered a room, she carried a powerful presence with her.

These are the words of friends when they learnt I was reviewing Aboriginal Country, a recent collection of Lisa Bellear’s poetry, some published, some performed, some on the printed page for the first time, released by UWA Press in 2018. Whatever their status, all these poems reveal Lisa’s talent for discourse, her matter-of-fact truth, the rhythmic lilt of hope that hides inside the lines, and her unapologetic language of politicking. Sadly Lisa died in her sleep at the age of 45. It has now been 13 years since her Spirit went to rest. Aboriginal Country was edited by Jen Jewel Brown and is a wonderful sentiment to the legacy of Lisa’s presence and poetry voice.

Lisa Bellear was a Stolen Generations baby who, at the age of 25, set out to trace her family. In her own words, Lisa states:

meeting her Grandmother Sadie Bellear, who had long yearned to trace her missing grandchild, was the start of an empowering journey. An adoptee’s journey to discover who they are is often painful, always brave. For Lisa Bellear, it was also revelatory. (19-21)

Her exhaustive list of achievements reveal Lisa was widely involved in Sorry Day activities on the campuses where she worked and the cities where she lived, and she also worked on the National Day of Healing. Sorry Day was launched on 26 May 1998 during a pivotal time in Australia striving for a stronger Reconciliation process, to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of Australia’s First Nations people since colonisation. I remember first-hand, as another Stolen Generations adopted child, the overwhelming promise of hope that these annual National Sorry Day and Journey of Healing events offered to those of us who were reconnecting with our families, and learning the stories of our removal. The Apology delivered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd occurred after Lisa’s death, and resulted in little change for Aboriginal Australians. Lisa was a proud black woman in a time when the prospect of reconciliation was vowed, and then obviated. Her poems stand as journalistic statements from the frontline, an essential emotive epitaph.

Come December 31, midnight 2000,
the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, will cease to exist. (68)

Reconciliation spins my head
picked up the gun and now
you’re dead. (69)

Most people in the world live a life of normality within society defined by their cultural beliefs, practices and protocols. They remain steady and sure-footed on the path of their people. Some people leave a bigger footprint on the earth than others. Individual achievements are simmered by belief in societal change, a keen witness and in self-trust. The commanding words in this collection hold such a voice. In ‘A Bridge to Reconcile’, Lisa writes:

I walked across
the bridge once 
and kept walking. (72)

Indeed she kept right on walking over rough pathways to become a lighthouse, her beacon shining brightly in many directions. Lisa did not diminish herself to literature. She remains respected for her award winning shows on community radio, and a dedicated photographer of her community. She was a truly faceted witness for Aboriginal Rights in Australia, as is evident in the following excerpts from ‘Poor Pretty Polly’ and ‘Ruby Was Never Seen Again’:

Broken again like a bad bad feeling
that keeps repeating and when you
finally relax BANG it’s there again
SMACK wallop in your face, swirling
around in your day time night dreams (30).

Weep for this wounded desperate soul that never
seems to heal. (29)

Always a forthright and honest plea for justice exists on these pages. As I read and reread these poems I hear her questions pounding through the verses, her core constantly demanding answers, refuting the denial of Aboriginal Australian sovereignty and survival, candid in her struggle and love of land. The poems ‘Warriors Without Treaties’ and ‘Beautiful Yuroke Red River Gum’ elegantly demonstrate how wherever Lisa placed her feet she also placed her heart:

We are Warriors, Warriors, Warriors
Warriors without treaties (85).

the Yarra Yarra tribe’s blood becomes
the rivers rich red clay. (37)

‘There was something unforgettable at work in Lisa Bellear’ are the words of the editor Jen Jewel Brown (17-18), who dedicated several years to resurrect life to these precious works. In my humble view, Aboriginal Country is a memorable portrait of Lisa Bellear. These poems gave me an insight into her journey to find her reality, to find the intensity of who she was born to be. It was a journey furnaced with an unrepentant citation for truth and justice. These poems are proof of her promise, both in her self-growth and that which she offers to others. This is evident, for instance, in ‘Tears Of Hope’:

breathe deeply for tomorrow
inhale to the mother earth’s
soul (79)

and likewise, ‘A Significant Life’:

for the future I release
this silenced voice
for the future I will go beyond
my hidden pain. (76)



Through the desert in the desert where I lived I often heard snippets through the grapevine of this much-loved poet and her camera. Regrettably I did not have the privilege to ever meet Lisa. As a Stolen Generation poet Lisa Bellear remains a guiding light to myself, and many other brothers and sisters who share her journey.



Ali Cobby Eckermann is an Australian poet of Indigenous Australian ancestry. She is a Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha woman born on Kaurna land in South Australia. Eckermann has written poetry collections, verse novels and a memoir, and has been shortlisted for or won several literary awards. In 2017, she won the international Windham-Campbell Literary Prize for Poetry. She has travelled extensively, performing her poetry.


Return to Contents Page
Return to Home Page

Vol 23 No 2 October 2019
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Julienne van Loon & Ross Watkins
Reviews editors: Pablo Muslera & Amelia Walker. Assistant reviews editor: Simon Telford