Asbestos kills trailblazing judge
By ZOE SATHERLEY and AAP
ASBESTOS has claimed the life of trailblazing Aboriginal judge Bob Bellear, who was born, grew up and went to school on the Northern Rivers.
Before he launched into the brilliant legal career that led to his appointment as Australia's first Aboriginal judge, Bob Bellear was in the Royal Australian Navy.
Working below decks as a stoker and engineer for seven years, he inhaled asbestos dust, causing the lung disease that claimed his life last Tuesday, aged 60.
It was only this month that Judge Bellear reached a confidential settlement with the Navy.
"His premature death from asbestos-related cancer acquired while serving his country in the Navy is a tragedy," said NSW Attorney-General Bob Debus.
The whole community benefited from Judge Bellear's 'intellect, compassion and commitment', Mr Debus said.
One of nine children, Robert William Bellear was born in Murwillumbah.
His family later moved to New Brighton and Bob went to Billinudgel Primary School.
Later they lived at Tyagarah and he went to Mullumbimby High School.
He joined the navy at 17, serving from 1961 to 1968.
An old school and navy friend, Brian Walker, of Eureka, said his goodbyes to his lifetime mate at a Tweed Heads lunch just three weeks ago.
"Bob knew he didn't have long to live," Brian said yesterday.
"He was a wonderful fellow. At school he excelled academically and won a bursary. He was also a first-class sportsman.
"He played representative rugby league and cricket and was a member of the Brunswick Heads Surf Club. There was not much he couldn't do.
"He was a bit of a larrikin at times and had a happy-go-lucky attitude to life. Bob was always popular and had many friends that he cared for deeply.
"Everyone felt richer for knowing him, and his work for the Aboriginal community is legendary."
Judge Bellear is survived by his wife, Kaye, two children, and eight siblings.
He will be given a state funeral on Tuesday at Sydney Town Hall and Parliament will be suspended for the afternoon.