Bob Ellis

Robert James Ellis (10 May 1942 – 3 April 2016) was an Australian writer, journalist, filmmaker, and political commentator.[1] 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, Robert Hughes and Mungo McCallum. He lived in Sydney with the author and screenwriter Anne Brooksbank; they had three children.

Bob Ellis
BornRobert James Ellis
(1942-05-10)10 May 1942
Murwillumbah, New South Wales, Australia
Died3 April 2016(2016-04-03) (aged 73)
Palm Beach, New South Wales, Australia
OccupationScreenwriter, journalist, playwright, novelist, political commentator
EducationLismore High School
Alma materUniversity of Sydney
SpouseAnne Brooksbank

Early years

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.[2] He attended Lismore High and then the University of Sydney on a Sir Robert Menzies scholarship. After graduating he had a variety of jobs before being employed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.[3]

Writing career

Ellis was a regular contributor to the Nation Review in the 1970s and subsequently contributed to Fairfax Media newspapers and The National Times.[4]

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.[5] They sold it in 1986 for $200,000.[6]

Ellis wrote 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.[7]

Ellis 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).[8][9]

Ellis's writing for television included the miniseries 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.[10]


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, wrote speeches for a number of Labor leaders (such as Bob Carr, Paul Keating and Kim Beazley) and wrote extensively on Labor history.

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

Ellis unsuccessfully contested the Federal seat of Mackellar as an independent candidate against the Liberal Party's Bronwyn Bishop in a by-election in 1994 as the ALP did not field a candidate in that by-election.[11][12]

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".[13]

Ellis wrote speeches for South Australian Premier Mike Rann for a number of years.[14]


On 18 July 2015, Ellis reported on his blog that he would be attending hospital for what he called "ominous" tests on his liver. The next day he announced "The news is very bad", and that the tests had revealed he had advanced liver cancer with a prognosis that he had months, if not weeks, to live.[15]

Ellis died on 3 April 2016, at his home in Sydney's Northern Beaches.[16]


In June 2018, Kate and Rozanna Lilley, daughters of celebrated playwright Dorothy Hewett, alleged that they had engaged in sex at the ages of 16 and 15 with Ellis and others on several different occasions, with their mother's approval.[17][18]


Ellis wrote 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.[19][20]

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


  • 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

  • The Road to Gundagai (1980) – vehicle for Bert Newton and Gerard Kennedy as soldiers on latrine duty during the bombing of Darwin[21]
  • comedy script about radio actors in the 1940s (circa 1980)
  • adaptation of The Sentimental Bloke for director Maurice Murphy starring Phillip Quast[22]
  • 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[23]
  • Shakespeare in Italy (2011)
  • Paper Tigers – mini series about the Murdoch family


  • Mad Dog Morgan (1976) with Anne Brooksbank – based on the Philippe Mora film Mad Dog Morgan
  • Fatty Finn (1980) – based on his film script
  • Top Kid (1985) – novelisation with John Hepworth of his film script
  • The Paper Boy (1985) - novelisation with John Hepworth of his film script
  • The Hewson Tapes : A Secret History, Perhaps, of Our Times (1993) – fiction presented as the diary of John Hewson
  • The Season (1996) – with Roy Masters


  • The Things We Did Last Summer: An Election Journal – account of the 1983 Australian federal election
  • Two weeks in another country : a journal of the 1983 British election – account of the 1983 United Kingdom general election
  • 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 1996 Australian federal election
  • 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 2007 Australian federal election
  • 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 2010 Australian federal election
  • The Ellis Laws (2014)



  1. Koziol, Michael; Josh, Dye (3 April 2016). "Journalist Bob Ellis dies, aged 73". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  2. Bob Ellis, "What I Know About Women", Daily Life, 19 August 2012, accessed 23 October 2012.
  3. "Panellist: Bob Ellis". Q&A. ABC. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  4. Bob Ellis (opeds by) at The National Times
  5. "Sydney Theatre History". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  6. "Retired doctor has cure for what ails theatre". The Sydney Morning Herald. 18 November 1986. p. 7.
  7. Richard Brennan, "Bob Ellis", Cinema Papers, Oct–Nov 1980 pp. 314–316.
  8. George, Sandy (16 July 2007). "Ellis zoomed in when Rann made run". The Australian. Retrieved 7 December 2007.
  9. Kerr C The Curse of Bob Ellis (review) at, 27 August 2007
  10. Infamous Victory – Ben Chifley's Battle for Coal at ABC Commercial
  11. "Mackellar 1994 by-election". Australian Electoral Commission.
  12. Leser, David (20 July 2015). "When Bob Ellis vowed to unseat Bronwyn Bishop". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  13. "Julia Gillard's 'Mouse Pack' and other dumb stuff". The Sydney Morning Herald. 10 January 2011.
  14. 'Bob Ellis fought release of fee information for fear of sales hit' by Christian Kerr, The Australian 30 November 2011 accessed 16 December 2011
  15. Dumas, Daisy (20 July 2015). "Bob Ellis reveals he has weeks to live". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 4 April 2016.
  16. "Bob Ellis dies of cancer after 40-year career spanning journalism, politics, play writing and film". ABC News. 3 April 2016. Retrieved 4 April 2016.
  17. Mum’s men used us for under-age sex, say Dorothy Hewett’s daughters, The Australian, June 9, 2018
  18. Playwright Dorothy Hewett’s daughters say their mother’s men used them for sex, The Australian, June 9, 2018
  19. Dalley, Helen (22 November 1998). "The inimitable Bob Ellis". Sunday (TV program) : Cover stories. Nine Network. Archived from the original on 6 January 2008. Retrieved 2007-12-07.
  20. "Defamation profile: offline cases 3 (1998 to 2007)". Caslon Analytics. 2007. Archived from the original on 6 December 2006. Retrieved 7 December 2006. "Defamation – sticks and stones". Law Spot. Lawscape Communications. 1998. Archived from the original on 5 September 2007. Retrieved 7 December 2007.
  21. Richard Brennan, 'Bob Ellis, Cinema Papers, Oct–Nov 1980 p 386
  22. David Stratton, The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry, Pan MacMillan, 1990 p186
  23. Andrew L. Urban, "Bob Ellis' The Nostradamus Kid", Cinema Papers, January 1992 p15

Further reading

  • 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.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • 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.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • 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.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Leser, David "The two of us: Bob Ellis & Anne Brooksbank" The Sydney Morning Herald (Good Weekend) 16 August 1997 p. 12
  • Arts news "Arts community to help Bob Ellis, after recent house fire" The Sydney Morning Herald 24 April 1993 p. 46
  • King, Noel "Abbott and Costello. View From The Couch" The Sydney Morning Herald (Good Weekend) 21 November 1998 p. 94
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