Some called him a “socialite of Redfern”.
Others an activist, a gentle giant, a trailblazer and a “flash dresser”.
Each and every persona of the late Solomon “Sol” Bellear was remembered on Saturday, when he was farewelled by more than one thousand mourners at a state funeral.
The life of the Aboriginal rights activist was celebrated at Redfern Park, the spiritual home of his beloved South Sydney Rabbitohs and the site at which he led then-Prime Minister Paul Keating on stage to deliver the emotional Redfern speech in 1992.
It followed Bellear’s final drive through Redfern, alongside mourners who marched proudly beneath Aboriginal flags.
A Bundjalung man from Mullumbimby and a lifelong campaigner for Indigenous health and land rights, Bellear was the first chairman of the Aboriginal Legal Service in the 1970s and played a pivotal role in the formation of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern.
Mourners on Saturday heard of his infamous afro, his role in one of the first land rights marches in NSW, which landed him in jail, and his meeting with Gough Whitlam at the 1972 Tent Embassy.
“He carried a great personal weight on his shoulders because he was a strong man,” he said, adding that “there would be no land rights movement in NSW if there was no Solly Bellear.”
“Solly had an outlook in life: you need more than anger to change the world,” he said.
Among the dignitaries to attend the service were NSW Governor David Hurley, Member for Sydney Tanya Plibersek and Senator Pat Dodson.
In a statement Senator Dodson described Bellear as a “true justice warrior for First Nations People.”
Bellear was part of an Aboriginal delegation to the UN General Assembly in 1970, and in 1999 he was awarded an Order of Australia for services to the Aboriginal community.
Bellear died peacefully at his home on November 30 at the age of 66. He is survived by his partner Naomi and children Joseph and Tamara.