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Bellair, John Mitchell (1909–2001)

by Finlay Macrae

John was captain of Scotch College, Ormond collegian, agricultural scientist, expert horseman, steeplechaser and drover, farmer and grazier, shire councillor, sailor, traveller and adventurer, historian, francophile, mountain climber, poet and writer.

His name evokes so many memories, and so much affection, admiration and acclamation. John was passionate about those things that concerned him and those whom he loved.

He had the knack to capture the romance of any situation and to bring it to life and living.

John had a deep sense of spiritual presence. His unpublished poem, Beyond, reflects on the human search for 'a glimpse of God'. But he was also immensely practical, always replete with sound advice, and because of this, highly successful. No doubt these qualities were very valuable to the Australian Imperial Forces, and were recognised as he passed through the ranks in his military career: enlisted as private, 1939; commissioned in the field; platoon commander, Greek campaign; company commander, 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion; personal assistant to Lieutenant-General Sir Leslie Morshead (commander 1st Australian Corps); commander C Company, 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion, in New Guinea.

His position as personal assistant to General Morshead was one that he particularly cherished, and one that gave him great pride and satisfaction.

His life was part of a very distinguished military record. It was also the substrate of two of his books: Amateur Soldier and From Snow to Jungle, the history of the 2/3rd Australian Machine Gun Battalion.

John was a successful sheep grazier at Riddells Creek. In 1949 he campaigned for the Federal seat of Lalor. He greatly reduced the margin of the incumbent, Chifley's agriculture minister Reg Pollard.

John and his family moved to Montpellier in France, where they lived for three years. John's essence as a francophile flourished.

He loved the culture and language and for years made the Mediterranean his home aboard the 'Merrywind'.

John was an adventurer and gathered an amazing array of experiences throughout his life. He ventured far and wide in his later life, epitomised in his search for the story of Lafcadio Hearn, published in 1994. In Hearn's Footsteps is a fascinating account of this remarkable man as he delivered to the western world previously untold impressions of Japanese life through his writings in the American presss, including Harper's Weekly. John's research took him to the Mediterranean, the West Indies, New Orleans and, of course, Japan, where he was greeted as something of a celebrity as he wrote his book about Hearn, who is known to all Japanese schoolchildren.

His poem 'Beyond' was read at his service.

Original publication

  • Age (Melbourne), 14 July 2001

Additional Resources

Citation details

Finlay Macrae, 'Bellair, John Mitchell (1909–2001)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 26 November 2020.

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