Vale Keith Bellis: Kokoda Track veteran
ON September 24, 1921, Keith was born in Euroa to Alf and Eva Bellis who ran a mixed business on the Hume Highway.
He was a birthday present for his father.
Despite contracting polio at 18 months, Keith participated in many physical activities such as tennis, cycling and Scouting treks.
He was the third of eight children, the eldest boy.
The Bellis family belonged to the Anglican Church, which is where Keith grew in faith and a love for music.
He was a Boy Scout, and achieved the highest award, the King’s Scout.
Keith started form three (grade nine) but left mid-year.
He held a variety of jobs: printer assistant, chemist assistant, helping in the family business, and bricklaying in Melbourne.
At the outbreak of World War Two he joined the Citizens Military Force.
As Keith knew Morse code and semaphore from Boy Scouts, he was assigned to the Signals platoon.
He completed signals and army training and like his mates, he was ready for an adventure.
In 1941, a request was made for war service in Papua and New Guinea.
About 50 members transferred to the 39th battalion - Keith was one of them, along with his childhood mate Ron.
Their troop ship ‘Aquitania’ landed at Port Moresby in January 1942 where they did jungle training and endured bombing raids.
His platoon nicknamed Keith “Kanga” - as he always marched with a hop!
The 39th Battalion encountered the Japanese invaders on the Kokoda Track.
Despite the extreme heat and humidity, torrential rain, lack of decent food and sleep, and a heavy pack, Keith’s legs still managed to carry him up and down the mountains.
He was at Isurava on signal duty at Battalion headquarters when malaria overtook him.
He had to walk for 10 days back to Port Moresby, but collapsed on the way.
His childhood friend Ron was also ill, and found Keith prone on the track.
Ron ignored Keith’s pleas to leave him there.
Despite his severe dysentery, Ron somehow got Keith to his feet and they both made it to hospital and recovery.
After a medical review, Keith became a full time Army Postal Services officer, attached to an army hospital near Townsville, where he made lifelong friends through the local church.
After work at the army depot at Marrickville in Sydney, he was discharged in April 1946 and returned to the family home.
Keith’s brother Alan helped him apply to the postal department, where he worked in the Spencer Street Mail Exchange.
After four years in suburban post offices, he transferred to the small Western Victorian town of Willaura in 1950.
He joined the local Anglican Church and attended country dances, where he met Vola Coad, the daughter of a local farmer.
During their courtship Keith would cycle the six miles out from Willaura to the farm - they later married in 1952.
Within three years they welcomed two daughters, Ann and Elaine.
Keith began the first of his many productive vegetable gardens and orchards.
He completed year 11 in English at night school to facilitate his postal career.
In 1958, Keith transferred to St Arnaud where Peter was born.
Then in 1959 the family moved to Hamilton, Birchip in 1963, Cohuna in 1970.
All these moves were promotions within the Post Office.
In each town Keith was involved with the Anglican Church, lawn bowls, choirs, RSL, his children’s interests such as Scouts and sports.
In 1971, Keith established an indoor bowls club and competition in Cohuna.
In the Post Office, Keith implemented new ideas to increase service levels and business opportunities.
Under his management, the Cohuna Post Office was one of the few in Victoria that ran at a profit.
Keith also co-founded the Cohuna Philately Club 19721984.
On Anzac Day, Keith made it a priority to proudly march with his mates in the 39th Battalion or local RSL gatherings.
Keith was so proud and thrilled to hear about his granddaughter Hilary’s recent achievement to retrace his footsteps along the Kokoda Track.
After retirement in 1979, Keith and Vola moved from the Post Office residence (now a health service centre) to 27 Livingstone Street.
They led very full lives with all their family, social and community activities.
They enjoyed several trips within Australia and overseas, including Papua New Guinea for the 50th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign.
All their children were married in the 1980s, followed by the arrival of 6 grandchildren, who were greatly loved and enjoyed.
Wider Bellis family reunions were also a regular event with Keith’s seven siblings and their families.
Keith’s mother Eva Bellis died at the amazing age of 103 - it seems he inherited some of her longevity.
In 2008, Vola moved into aged care at the Cohuna Retirement Village and Keith continued to live at home until 2010 when he also moved to the village.
In 2011, Vola, his beloved wife of almost 60 years, died.
Keith had the opportunity to attend the marriage of two grandchildren, and welcomed the safe arrival of 4 greatgrandchildren.
Recently, another greatgrandson arrived at Yarrawonga, and another is due next summer.
Keith led a very full and varied life, with family, friends, the church and the community at the centre.
His family gives thanks for his long, fruitful and faithful life, now being in the care of God.