McRae's early life was intertwined with the rich traditions of carving and weaving, skills that would later inform his approach to drawing. His sketches, characterised by their fluid lines and attention to detail, depict scenes of Aboriginal daily life, ceremonial dances, and interactions with European settlers. These illustrations serve not only as artistic expressions but also as vital historical records, providing insights into the Indigenous perspective on the impact of colonisation.
From his early days, Bell was acutely aware of the disparities and injustices faced by Indigenous Australians. This awareness would later become the bedrock of his artistic endeavour, fuelling a body of work that is as much a critique of political and social systems as it is a celebration of Indigenous resilience and sovereignty.