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Painting History: Private Alec Ernest James Bell (1946-1968)

Mural in Vic Park, Alec Bell Park, Victoria Park mural
Adding the finishing touches: Left-right Rebecca McKinlay, Rozanna Johnson (designer) and Sue Turner.

Alec Ernest James Bell lived in East Victoria Park on Albany Highway before being called up in the National Service Scheme in 1966, to go to Vietnam. He joined the 7th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment as a medic and rifleman. In 1968, aged 21, he was mortally wounded close to Bien Hoa airbase. Before dying, he gave medical advice from his stretcher that saved the lives of eleven other men wounded on that day. A memorial plaque and garden lie in the corner of the park now named in his honour, on the corner of Hampshire and Berwick Streets, East Victoria Park.

In 1946, the residents of this area banded together to ask their council for a space their children could play in, as they didn't like them playing on the roads. The council put aside two blocks, and built the park. It was renamed in 2015, to commemorate Alec Bell. Now some 50 years later, local mum Callie Hagdorn, who lives just up the road, sat under the shade of the trees in the park watching her kids play, and thought it could be made more inviting, a place where everyone could get together and spend time.

"It's a wonderful park for kids, it's fenced and gated, but it's under-loved."

She mentioned it to another neighbour, and with a grant from the council, they closed the street and held a party there. The consensus of the surrounding neighbours was that the park would be greatly improved with some more plantings, a little library, and a mural, to start.

A local artist, Rozanna Johnson, worked with them and designed the mural, which would be a "paint by numbers" design, allowing all of the neighbours and locals to help paint it, right across the back fence. It tells the story of the life of Alec "Dinga" Bell.

"Life can be lonely, whether you're elderly, a new mum, you go to work every day, or you're new to the area. Since we're improved the park, we've all met our neighbours, we've made friends on the street. It's so good, it's valuing our community."

Into the future, they are hoping for some more interactive elements, perhaps a waterwheel, and they're looking for community input again into what everybody would like to add to the park. The council have been planting more trees in the park as well.

Saturday was a bustling morning, neighbours everywhere painting, children playing, everyone helping to get the mural finished - the story of the local hero, to remember the man behind the plaque in the memorial garden in the corner.

The park is much loved by the locals, one of the helpers said, "Sometimes I see people sitting here on the bench reading in the shade. Now I'll see the mural and say 'I helped do that!'"

Tea and cakes were being served by the local CWA, making money to donate to local charities, and the air was full of the laughter and chatter for friends and neighbours spending time together to make their community a better place.

"Ideally you want the places where you live to be loved and cared for and nice. You've got to love your places."

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