Bob Ellis

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Robert "Bob" Ellis (born 1942, Lismore, New South Wales) is an Australian writer, journalist, filmmaker and political commentator. He was a student at the University of Sydney at the same time as other notable Australians including Clive James, Germaine Greer, Les Murray, John Bell, Ken Horler and Mungo McCallum. He lives in Sydney with the author and screenwriter Anne Brooksbank; they have three children.

Early years[edit]

Ellis was raised a Seventh-day Adventist. He says the "seminal moment" of his life happened when he was ten and his 22-year-old sister was killed while crossing the road.[1] He attended Lismore High and then Sydney University on a Sir Robert Menzies scholarship. After graduating he had a variety of jobs before being employed by the ABC.[2]

Ellis was a regular contributor to the Nation Review in the 1970s and subsequently contributed to Fairfax Media newspapers and the National Times.[3]

Ellis became a popular playwright, usually working in collaboration. In 1970 he and Michael Boddy (1934–2014) became known for co-writing The Legend of King O'Malley, a musical play based on the life of King O'Malley. From 1975 to 1986 he and his wife also owned the Stables Theatre in Kings Cross, Sydney, during which time it became home to the Griffin Theatre Company.[4] They sold it in 1986 for $200,000.[5]

Ellis has written several film scripts, notably The Nostradamus Kid (1992), Cactus (1986, with Paul Cox), My First Wife (1984, with Paul Cox), Where the Green Ants Dream (Wo die grünen Ameisen träumen) (1984, with Werner Herzog), Man of Flowers (1983, with Paul Cox), Goodbye Paradise (1983), ...Maybe This Time (1981, with Anne Brooksbank), Fatty Finn (1980) and Newsfront (1978). Most of his film scripts, as with his plays, were written in collaboration with other writers.

In 1980 Ellis signed a contract with the New South Wales Film Corporation to write ten feature film scripts over two years for $7,000 for each script, with a payment of $12,000 for the second draft if they wanted to make the movie. Ellis says he presented them with 33 ideas, they chose five and he chose five.[6]

Ellis has also directed several films including The Nostradamus Kid (1992), Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train (1988), Unfinished Business (1985) and Run Rabbit, Run (2007).[7][8]

Ellis's writing for television includes the miniseries The True Believers (with co-author Matt Carroll) and Infamous Victory: Ben Chifley's Battle for Coal (2008), with co-author Geoff Burton, made for Film Australia.[9]


Ellis won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Screenplay for Newsfront (1978, with Anne Brooksbank and Phillip Noyce) and for My First Wife (1984, with Paul Cox).


Ellis, a supporter of the Australian Labor Party, has written speeches for a number of Labor leaders (such as Bob Carr, Paul Keating and Kim Beazley) and written extensively on Labor history.

Regarding Ellis's speech writing, Beazley had said on the 7.30 Report that if he had used any of Ellis's speeches he would have been out of politics.

Ellis's involvement in politics became more direct when he unsuccessfully contested the Federal seat of Mackellar as an independent candidate against the Liberal Party's Bronwyn Bishop in a by-election in 1994[10] as the ALP did not field a candidate in that by-election.

Ellis's 2011 book Suddenly, Last Winter – An Election Diary created headlines for its criticism of the Labor Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and praise for the Liberal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott. He described Gillard as "not well informed" and "sudden, firm and wrong" in everything she does. He also said "She has no power, no influence, no friends, no learning. There's not much there" whilst describing Abbott as having "good manners", being "formidable" and possessing a "first-class mind".[11]

Ellis has written speeches for South Australian premier Mike Rann for a number of years.[12]


Ellis has written two books, Goodbye Jerusalem and Goodbye Babylon, on his experiences of the Labor Party. The first edition of Goodbye Jerusalem was pulped following a successful defamation case brought by two Liberal cabinet ministers, Tony Abbott and Peter Costello, and their wives. At issue was the single sentence where Ellis quoted politician Rodney Cavalier as having said, "Abbott and Costello...they're both in the Right wing of the Labour Party till the one woman fucked both of them and married one of them and inducted them into the Young Liberals". The publisher, Random House, accepted that the disputed content was a falsehood and the book was removed from sale. ACT Supreme Court Justice Higgins awarded the two politicians and their wives a total of $277,000 damages. A new edition of the book was published three months later which omitted the defamatory passage.[13][14]

In 1998 Penguin Books Australia published Ellis's First Abolish the Customer – 202 Arguments Against Economic Rationalism. Penguin published Ellis's The Capitalism Delusion – How Global Economics Wrecked Everything and What To Do About It in 2009 and One Hundred Days of Summer in 2010. In 2014 Penguin Books published "The Ellis Laws" by Bob Ellis.


  • The Legend of King O'Malley (1970) with Michael Boddy
  • Big Brother Dragon (1971) with Michael Boddy
  • Duke of Edinburgh Assassinated or The Vindication of Henry Parkes (1971) with Dick Hall
  • The Francis James Dossier (1973) – later The James Dossier (1975) – musical about Francis James
  • Whitlam Days (1975)
  • Down Under (1976) with Anne Brooksbank
  • A Very Good Year (1980)
  • Man, the musical (1990s) book and lyrics with Denny Lawrence, music by Chris Neal
  • A Local Man: A Play about Ben Chifley (2004) with Robin McLachlan
  • Shakespeare in Italy (2012) with Denny Lawrence
  • Intimate Strangers (unproduced) with Denny Lawrence


Unmade screenplays[edit]

  • The Road to Gundagai (1980) – vehicle for Bert Newton and Gerard Kennedy as soldiers on latrine duty during the bombing of Darwin[15]
  • comedy script about radio actors in the 1940s (circa 1980)
  • adaptation of The Sentimental Bloke for director Maurice Murphy starring Phillip Quast[16]
  • mini-series with James Ricketson about Bea Miles (circa 1980)
  • road film about two girls going north to audition for a cabaret version of Brigadoon in Surfers Paradise (circa 1980)
  • These Remembrances set around the time of the Whitlam Dismissal (circa 1980)
  • The Girl from Kiev about two 40-year-old divorced lawyers travelling near Chernobyl falling for a Russian girl[17]
  • Shakespeare in Italy (2011)
  • Paper Tigers – mini series about the Murdoch family


  • Mad Dog Morgan (1976) – novelisation of film with Anne Brooksbank
  • Fatty Finn (1980) – based on his film script
  • Top Kid (1985) – novelisation with John Hepworth of his script
  • The Paper Boy (1985) -novelisation with John Hepworth of his script
  • The Hewson tapes : a secret history, perhaps, of our times (1993) – fictionalised diary of John Hewson
  • The Season (1996) – with Roy Masters


  • The Things We Did Last Summer: An Election Journal – account of the Australian federal election, 1983
  • Two weeks in another country : a journal of the 1983 British election – account of the United Kingdom general election, 1983
  • Letters to the Future (1987) – collection of writings from 1969–87
  • The Inessential Ellis (1992) – collection of writings
  • Goodbye Jerusalem : night thoughts of a Labor outsider (1997) – writings centred on the history of the Australian Labor Party up to the Australian federal election, 1996
  • First abolish the customer: 202 arguments against economic rationalism (1998)
  • So it goes : essays, broadcasts, speeches 1987–1999 (1999)
  • Goodbye Babylon : further journeys in time and politics (2002)
  • Night thoughts in time of war (2004)
  • And so it went: night thoughts in a year of change (2009) – events around the Australian federal election, 2007
  • The capitalism delusion : how global economics wrecked everything and what to do about it (2009)
  • One hundred days of summer : how we got to where we are (2010)
  • Suddenly, last winter : an election diary (2010) – diary of the Australian federal election, 2010


  • I Own the Racecourse (1985) – film
  • The Human Behan (1995–96) – play
  • Waiting for Godot (2000) – play


  1. ^ Bob Ellis, "What I Know About Women", Daily Life, 19 August 2012, accessed 23 October 2012.
  2. ^ Bob Ellis bio at Q & A.
  3. ^ Bob Ellis (opeds by) at National Times.
  5. ^ "RETIRED DOCTOR HAS CURE FOR WHAT AILS THEATRE" Sydney Morning Herald 18 November 1986
  6. ^ Richard Brennan, "Bob Ellis", Cinema Papers, Oct–Nov 1980 pp. 314–316.
  7. ^ George, Sandy (16 July 2007). "Ellis zoomed in when Rann made run". The Australian. Retrieved 2007-12-07. 
  8. ^ Kerr C The Curse of Bob Ellis (review) at, 27 August 2007
  9. ^ Infamous Victory – Ben Chifley's Battle for Coal at ABC Commercial
  10. ^ Australian Electoral Commission report of by-election results for Mackellar
  11. ^ "Julia Gillard's 'Mouse Pack' and other dumb stuff". The Sydney Morning Herald. 10 January 2011. 
  12. ^ 'Bob Ellis fought release of fee information for fear of sales hit' by Christian Kerr, The Australian 30 November 2011 accessed 16 December 2011
  13. ^ Dalley, Helen (22 November 1998). "The inimitable Bob Ellis". Sunday (TV program) : Cover stories (Nine Network). Retrieved 2007-12-07. 
  14. ^ "Defamation profile: offline cases 3 (1998 to 2007)". Caslon Analytics. 2007. Retrieved 2006-12-07.  "Defamation – sticks and stones". Law Spot. Lawscape Communications. 1998. Retrieved 2007-12-07. 
  15. ^ Richard Brennan, 'Bob Ellis, Cinema Papers, Oct–Nov 1980 p 386
  16. ^ David Stratton, The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry, Pan MacMillan, 1990 p186
  17. ^ Andrew L. Urban, "Bob Ellis' The Nostradamus Kid", Cinema Papers, January 1992 p15
  • Ann Atkinson, Linsay Knight, Margaret McPhee (Ed.) (1996). The dictionary of performing arts in Australia. St Leonards, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86448-005-X. 
  • Brian McFarlane, Geoff Mayer, Ina Bertrand (Ed.) (1999). The Oxford companion to Australian film. Melbourne; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-553797-1. 
  • Philip Parsons, Victoria Chance (Ed.) (1995). Companion to theatre in Australia. Sydney: Currency Press in association with Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-86819-357-7. 
  • Leser, David "The two of us: Bob Ellis & Anne Brooksbank" Sydney Morning Herald (Good Weekend) 16 August 1997 p. 12
  • Arts news "Arts community to help Bob Ellis, after recent house fire" Sydney Morning Herald 24 April 1993 p. 46
  • King, Noel "Abbott and Costello. View From The Couch" Sydney Morning Herald (Good Weekend) 21 November 1998 p. 94

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