Monday, 2 May 2011

Lisa Bellear’s 50th Birthday

Today we celebrated the 50th birthday of warrior woman and mighty poet, Lisa Bellear. Melbourne friends and family gathered for a bittersweet celebration of our friend, cousin, role model, mentor, advocate and artist.  Bitter because Lisa passed away without warning almost five years ago at age 45. Sweet because the occasion called for the telling of stories, the looking at photographs, the eating of favourite foods, the recitation of poetry and the playing of spoons.
The guest list was compiled from a quick whip around of friends from her hundred walks of life – poets, artists, activists, survivors, warriors, dancers, educators, writers, broadcasters, the babysat and the mentored.  A last minute do, but one that had been brewing amongst a group of us who think almost daily about Lisa. A graveside party was contemplated, but the distance was prohibitive. What then?  A do would certainly do.

All the elements were there. The tender lamb chops, bottles of Queen Adelaide, Dionne Warwick belting out Walk on By, poetry and poets, photographers and photographs. Even the barbecue played its part, erupting into a flaming urban campfire – Lisa’s pyromaniac spirit was saluted.
At first I wanted to read Maya Angelou’s tribute to Michael Jackson, We Had Him to kick off the poetry. Maya is a national treasure for good reason. A poet who can capture a mood, the feeling of a time and pot it. Just like Lisa. A poem which tells the loss of a star gone too soon, but lingers on the brilliance left behind.  I will post the full poem in a separate post in case the link above ever expires.

But as we started the readings, her book, Dreaming in Urban Areas (UQP, 1996) fell open at Tanna Man, and so we started with this. A fine beginning, one of connection, roots and a need for justice.
Tanna Man
(for Faith Bandler)
Cuts cane
As white men
With long slim noses
And whips
Curse him.
Faster “nigger” harder.

Each piece of cane he cuts
represents and islander from home,
kidnapped, black birded, stolen.

Mango trees echo vision,
Freedom, isn’t meant to be
a luxury for idle white boss men
To contemplate and dwell.
June 1993

The poem was met with cries of ‘Strong ay!’ and the crowd rallied to the call for more readings.
Brunswick poets read more poems and sister Kylie read  A Suitcase Full of Mould, one of Lisa’s most poignant, prophetic and painful.

Technology failed us on a few fronts as we tried to show a slideshow of photos of Lisa but we saw footage of her comedy routine from Natives Getting Funny!, and her cameos in Destiny Deacon’s video work.
But suddenly one of her writing buddies, Christine Gillespie, popped on screen and read one of the favourite poems, changing the words slightly from Koori woman, to Warrior Woman:

Chops ‘n’ Things
(for Eva Johnson)
I can’t wait to curl around
a lemon scented tree
light a fire and
watch it burn down to
the embers as the sun
floats away, far away
our ancestors are
yarning and laughing
at this Koori woman
and through the
flames, the embers
and the burnt chops
and charcoaled
potatoes wrapped in foil
they’re saying, tidda girl
you’re okay.
keep on dreaming
keep on believing
September 1991

The night ended in hilarity including ukulele renditions,  dancing and spoon playing but one of the highlights was definitely Ardy Tibby’s poem, written a year after Lisa’s death.

Quickly, and often late, she'd arrive
In a flurry of curls
With much clanking of equipment and
rummaging about
in an ever enlarging carry bag
Would plunk down in a heap with a glass
of plonk
To be reclaimed later.
Laughing and running about to photograph
everyone and everything.
Then a lift home,
Gone with a smile and a wave.
June 2006
But between the dancing and drinking, uncontrollable fire and comedy routines, the fine dining and the fine words, it was like Lisa was there, and the spirits and ancestors were yarning and laughing too.


  1. Dear Kim, reading about the special night for Lisa was wonderful. It was almost like being there myself! Thank you for posting such a detailed account, and the poems! jeltjex

  2. Wish you had been there Jeltje, but glad to be able to convey it to you. More poetry in the world I say!

  3. My Cuz, words aren't needed and the pain is still too strong. Looks like a great night with great people. much love to you all xxx Kyas