Don Bell snr (Carroll)
Don was born 5 October 1935 on Hollywood, an Aboriginal mission in Yass, 56 kms from Canberra. He was the first child to be born on the mission, the son of James (known as Eppie) and Christina Carroll (nee Brown). Don’s father James died when Don was approximately 8 years old and when his mother remarried, Don took his step-father's surname Bell. He was the second youngest of 11 children who were all born at Yass or in its surrounding districts.
Don Bell (snr)
Don began his schooling at the Hollywood mission school, then at Nowra for a short time before returning to the district to school at Bowning. Family circumstances forced Don to leave school without completing a full education, beginning his working life at 12 to help provide for his sick mother.
Starting work at such a young age, he had to take whatever was available, travelling with the boxing tents, working on the railways, as a construction worker, abattoir worker and general labouring jobs. After much travelling, mainly around rural New South Wales, he returned to his own country to live at Jerrawa and work once again on the railways. Changing jobs, he then worked for the NSW Electricity Commission (now known as Transgrid). He was forced to retire early due to a medical condition.
After some years living away in Wagga Wagga, Don and his wife Ruth decided it was time to return to country so they moved back to Canberra. Together they became actively involved in the local community, attending a wide range of functions that allowed Don to influence community attitudes by teaching people about this culture.
Don's considerable cultural knowledge meant that he was widely consulted by all levels of community and government on aspects of Ngunawal cultural heritage, its protection and conservation.
Don once said "I take pride in the fact that I have made many achievements during my time. The most memorable was being the first Aboriginal person to be permitted into a club or hotel in Yass. I was a keen cricketer who played in the winning team for the championship for Jerrawa and Yass districts. I was also a champion boxer for the region which led to my assisting young people to learn how to box through the Yass Police Boys Club".
Another of Don's achievements is being the first Aboriginal Justice of the Peace in the Yass area.
Don's commitment to the future of Aboriginal peoples meant that he liked to visit schools to speak to the children about Aboriginal culture and tell Dreamtime stories. He authored and published Ngunawal Dreamtime stories Mununja the Butterfly,* The Swan* and Dyirri the Frog*.
His own words best sum up what he set out to achieve. "I would like to be able to do some things now that in the long term will be of benefit to the younger generation of Aboriginal people that hopefully will follow in my footsteps and carry on the culture that I hold so dear.
I can only hope that my small contribution can make it just a little easier for them to achieve their goals".
*Books available for purchase in website shop.
Don and Ruth Bell
Don Bell on the steps of the Yass Courthouse after being appointed a Justice of the Peace