What’s Missing is Love


In a new essay published at SBS online in December 2017, “What’s Missing is Love“, Gail Bell listens to the voices of disability activists and parents as they face the closure of the Stockton Centre in Newcastle, NSW.

Hundreds of people with intellectual disabilities live at the Centre, which is set to be sold to developers. Does the government’s new group home model really offer a better future, or is it just a grab for cash?

I hark back to the voices I recorded for this story… like Lorraine Yudaeff, psychologist and activist, whose quiet comment was caught against background noise on my recorder “What’s missing from all this [top down policy making] is love.

My Mother’s Good Death

My Mother's Good Death

In a new essay published December 2016, My Mother’s Good Death, Gail Bell writes about the death of her mother Alice. The essay, commissioned by Ben Naparstek, Head of Editorial, Online & Emerging Platforms at the Australian Special Broadcasting Service SBS, takes the reader to Alice’s bedside in her own home after doctors had said nothing more could be done. For her children gathered around, it was time to patch up their relationships, make their mother comfortable and respect her wishes, as the new order of things began.

I knew, just after the turn of the New Year, that Mum was getting ready to cut the cord and send us, motherless, fatherless, into our necessary maturation.

“The latest personal essay from the incomparable Gail Bell.” Ben Naparstek

“I just read your beautiful story and fell in love with your mother. What a strong, wise woman who was your mother to the very end. And your writing is magnificent – sharp as a scalpel, fine as a paintbrush.” Susan Wyndham

“…so sensitively done, and with humour, sudden honesty, tenderness, pain — I was moved and impressed by your ability to frame it all into a structure that gave the reader time to get to know your mother enough to care about her and admire the dignified and thoughtful way she died.” Susan Hampton

“It’s wonderful, I loved it.” Helen Garner

Losing a Parent to Parkinson’s Disease

SMH Good Weekend

In a feature article SHAKEN in The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend Magazine of June 6, 2015, Gail Bell writes poignantly about the death of her father from Parkinson’s Disease.

Poverty of movement, a phrase that had haunted his thinking, arrived as alarming episodes of being frozen on the spot. ‘I’m turning to stone’, he’d say. As a family we learnt to watch his voyages around the room. The drill was to give him a small push if he locked up. Like a stalled wind-up toy, he’d begin moving again.

Sugar Town: Have we lost control of what we eat?

The Monthly June 2014

In a cover story for the June 2014 issue of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell considers whether we’ve lost control of what we eat – and whether sugar deserves to be our new worst enemy. In “Sugar Town” she listens to both sides of the sugar/obesity debate and discovers strong resistance to change (and a lot of double-dealing) from the food giants.Many will recognise the tactics of Big Tobacco and Big Pharma in our own Australian Food and Grocery Council. First, commission your own scientists to produce studies that refute claims that your product is hurting anyone. Then bury evidence that points the wrong way. Keep talking, stalling, seed the public discourse with doubts, discredit your opponents, and get the government of the day in your pocket.

To Holland and Back with van Gogh: In search of home

The Monthly December 2013

In The Summer Issue of The Monthly Magazine December 2013-January 2014, Gail Bell journeys back in time to her years spent in Holland, living on a farm with her first husband, a native of Friesland. In Lowlands: To Holland and back with van Gogh she remembers the deep connection she felt to the art of Vincent van Gogh, and her efforts to create a home in a small rural village.

In a shipping crate that had come halfway round the world I’d packed the possessions without which I could not live: my library of essential books, special fountain pens and bottles of ink, the kind of paper I like to write on, art prints, favourite bookmarks, the small buddhas and the glass cat that sit on my desk, my collection of glass rings, the many small Chinese boxes that serve no useful purpose.

Friends at Sea

SMH Good Weekend

In a feature article Friends at Sea in The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend Magazine 23 November 2013, as well as The Age in Melbourne on 26 October 2013, Gail Bell reflects on an ocean voyage that reveals much about herself and her first marriage.

Paseo del Prado

The Monthly December 2012

In the December 2012-January 2013 issue of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell writes for the summer reading section, Hitting the Road, where she recounts her recent experience of being robbed in Madrid.

Paseo del Prado describes a few hours spent watching Spain’s annual Day of the Armed Forces in an atmosphere of passionate national pride.

“Viva España was barely off my lips when I looked down and saw the gaping empty vault and knew instantly the money was gone.”

The Logic of Water: Meeting the Martu artists of the East Pilbara

The Monthly Oct 2012

In the October 2012 edition of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell writes about her recent experiences in the Gibson Desert of Western Australia for the special Arts Issue of the magazine.

Editor John van Tiggelen: “In ‘The Logic of Water’, Gail Bell visits the Martu painters of the East Pilbara and finds an art built of history, genealogy, geography and myth.”

In the part shade behind a large shed where the painting supplies are kept, about 15 Martu women in floral skirts and purple beanies are bent over their work. They sit on a tarp spread over the red dirt. I take my place on the ground and try to blend in.

Reading to the Dying

The Monthly September 2012

In the September 2012 edition of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell writes for the newly created VOX column. Editor John van Tiggelen writes:

Gail Bell wonders what she can do for a friend who is nearing the end of her life, and finds her answer in the pages of Austen and Hopkins.

After the others had said their goodbyes, I picked up Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen had been dragged into all kinds of strange embraces – zombies, vampires, werewolves – why not palliation?

Quiet, Please: CityRail’s ‘Quiet Carriages’ Trial

The Monthly May 2012

In the May 2012 edition of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell writes about her experience of travelling to Sydney in the front carriage of a commuter train that is part of an experiment in quiet travel. As she writes in “Quiet, please”, “passengers are asked to refrain from loud conversations, using mobile phones and playing loud music”.

“In the gentle rocking embrace of my window seat I lapse into a trance. My eyes feel bigger. The visual world skims by…The clickety-clack conjures up childhood and having my hand held by a parent.”