Give something back: Bell

Aboriginal elder Eric Bell is the first of a series of Yass identities to offer advice to himself as a 16-year-old.

Dear Eric,

At 16, you were working hard on a property. It was a full-time job and you were a good worker. You liked it - chasing after sheep and building fences. Sometimes I still go past that property and see a fence you built. I have good memories of that place.

You really enjoyed that job, but to make it even more interesting sometimes you'd pretend that it was your property. When you did that, you worked even harder and the boss would be really impressed. But it wasn't your place, and perhaps you would have been better off doing other things.

Like getting a trade. I think that would be a good idea for you. It's something that you'll always have, and once you have a trade, you can do other things as well.

Get a trade, have a lifetime job, make some decent money and buy yourself a home. Don't be a labourer all your life.

The other big regret I have is that I didn't finish my schooling. You can be anything you want to be if you’ve got a good education. Then get a trade. Then you’ve got something you can fall back on.

I know that at 16 you think about going travelling a lot. You really want to go with your cousin John, but you went and got that full-time job so you can't go right now. And later on, when you might have been ready to go, John has gone to Sydney.

You should seize the chance while it's there.

I've done trips now, later in life, but it's not the same. Back then I would have hitch-hiked (it was different back in your day) and camped. I would have got jobs along the way, picking fruit or vegetables. I would have been good at that. I could have travelled all over.

My brother did it. He joined a travelling boxing tent, and did a lot of travelling. I could have done that, too, but I didn't. You're not keen to go right now because you don't want to give up your job. But you don't realise that the opportunity will pass you right by.

Travelling is one of the best things any person can do. You get a lot of knowledge out of it and you meet a lot of people. You should let loose and just take off. There'll be time for responsibilities and settling down later.

There are three other bits of advice I want to give you.

If you live in a town and the town's been good to you then give something back. Always give something back. Give back more than you get. Don't be one of those people who just want to take all the time.

Always earn things, take only what you earned. You won't get into trouble that way.

And always respect people.

I reckon if you do these things you'll have a pretty good life. I know I have.

All the best young fella,


A letter to my 16 year old self with Eric Bell.

A letter to my 16 year old self with Eric Bell.