Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 September 2014


Bell, Associate Professor Erica

7:24 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments) Share this | Hansard source

I rise tonight to pay tribute to, and acknowledge the outstanding achievements of, Associate Professor Erica Bell. Sadly, Associate Professor Bell suffered a critical brain haemorrhage on 21 July this year while at work at the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre. Despite emergency surgery and the wonderful care of staff at the Royal Hobart Hospital's intensive care unit, she passed away peacefully five days later, aged 52. I want to acknowledge the presence here tonight in the chamber of Associate Professor Bell's husband, Dr Bastian Seidel, who has travelled from Hobart to be here, her mother Lucy Bell, sister Sarah Bell and Sarah's two children, Leo and Raphael—Raph, as he is known—who have come from Queensland.

I want to say at the outset that, regrettably, I was not fortunate enough to meet Associate Professor Bell. However, after reading the many tributes to her, I know she was an inspirational person who was full of energy and enthusiasm. She worked at the cutting edge of social research and was deeply committed to her academic work and literary excellence and also to her adopted state, Tasmania.

Associate Professor Bell was a prolific writer, a highly successful author and a true scholar. Erica wrote numerous academic papers and in 2012 the vice-chancellor recognised her with an award for her brilliance in the area of community engagement. As well as her academic work and running a farm at Mountain River, south of Hobart, she also wrote two historical novels, the most recent published just one week before her sad passing.

Erica brought out the best in people. I will draw on the words of the people who knew her well and are today mourning her sudden and very sad loss, including her beloved husband, here tonight; her family, including her mother and siblings; and her academic colleagues and others whose lives she inspired.

Associate Professor Bell was born in Papua New Guinea and moved to Australia to live when she was 12 years old. She received the highest overall matriculation result in the Northern Territory and was also awarded the Northern Territory Administrator's Medal for the Most Outstanding Graduate across all university departments at the Northern Territory university. She majored in psychology, history and English and completed her PhD in language and communication theory from the University of Queensland. Associate Professor Bell moved to Tasmania in 2004 and joined the University of Tasmania.

I would like now to refer to comments made by Nell Kuilenburg, Development and Research Manager at the Salvation Army in Tasmania, who met Erica back in 2004 and worked with her on a number of research projects for the Salvation Army. Those projects included identifying therapeutic models for at-risk youth, crime prevention project evaluations, a literacy and numeracy project, and several Communities for Children evaluations. But, according to Nell Kuilenburg, the most exciting and profound was the Safe from the Start project. Associate Professor Bell worked on the successful tender proposal for the project and then conducted the research, which considered the impact of domestic violence on children. This included an investigation into how violence affects the brain development of young children who witness violence and how workers and the community can respond. This project was so successful it attracted numerous grants so that it could be implemented nationally. It won a number of awards, including the top national award at the Crime and Violence Prevention Awards in 2012 and a NAPCAN award last year. The training has been done in all Australian states, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and resources have also been distributed to many other countries. In the words of Nell Kuilenburg:

I have had an exciting journey with Erica. I admired her, respected her and loved her. She was always humble, gracious, inspirational, always believed the best of people, was positive and happy, thrived on hard work and challenges. She always had great ideas and was a great role model and she mentored me.

The Salvation Army is greatly indebted to Erica—she contributed profound and remarkable reports and evaluations for us that have resulted in other successful funding outcomes.

As an organisation we will miss her.

Much of her work was pro bono and she lived the mission of TSA by her love, care and compassion for people who were hurting and disadvantaged.

She leaves a lasting legacy.

Another colleague, Dr Romy Winter, also paid tribute to Associate Professor Bell, with whom she worked since 2006. Dr Winter remembered her work in areas including adult literacy and numeracy, a variety of programs in the Aboriginal community and supporting families in lower socioeconomic groups and, more recently, people living with dementia. She said Associate Professor Bell was a great team player and her capacity for hard work was legendary. Dr Winter said:

She set the bar high for herself and those of us who worked with her will continue to aim for Erica's standards in research, publication and collaboration.

I will miss her for her energy, her intellect, her compassion, her optimism, her individual style and her warmth.

Associate Professor Bell's work has also been acknowledged by the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government at the University of Technology in Sydney. She was introduced to the centre by the chair of the board and my fellow Tasmanian and former Labor senator Margaret Reynolds in 2010. The centre said Associate Professor Bell had made presentations on the health impacts of climate change and was a friend and mentor to many.

Centre director Roberta Ryan said:

Erica's contribution to the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government, and the broader research community, will be greatly missed. We are fortunate to have as a legacy her research that will continue to support local government scholars.

The National Rural Health Alliance said the rural and remote health sector was devastated at Associate Professor Bell's untimely death. The alliance said she was a friend who was well liked and respected and who would be sadly missed.

It is fitting that at the celebration of her life her beloved husband and soul mate, Dr Seidel, announced that in close collaboration with the Faculty of Health at the University of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Writers' Centre he would set up the Erica Bell Foundation. Dr Seidel said the foundation was to reward excellence in Tasmanian literature and medical research. It would award an annual $10,000 prize to a first-time Tasmanian novelist and a $10,000 annual prize to a first author of a peer reviewed research publication affiliated with the Faculty of Health at the University of Tasmania. The literary award will be one of the highest annual awards presented in Tasmania to an emerging author, and the award for the medical research publication will also be amongst the highest in this area in Tasmania and nationally.

In the words of Dr Seidel:

Erica was a positive, forward looking and forward thinking person.

She would want us to pull together and to celebrate and to reward excellence and talent.

The Foundation in her name is going to do exactly that.

I am honoured that with Dr Seidel's support I have had the chance to honour Associate Professor Bell's outstanding contribution tonight.

I have no doubt that her decade long work in Tasmania will continue—and, indeed, must continue. Her creative and academic talent will be sorely missed, but she will be remembered for her inspiration, her drive, her leadership and her work to improve the lives of Tasmanians.

Vale Associate Professor Erica Bell.


No comments