AustLit logo
NLA image of person
Bob Ellis Bob Ellis i(A8791 works by) (a.k.a. Robert Ellis; Robert James Keith Ellis)
Born: Established: 1942 Lismore, Lismore - Goonellabah, Lismore area, Far Northeast NSW, New South Wales, ; Died: Ceased: 3 Apr 2016 Palm Beach, Northern Beaches area, Sydney Northeastern Suburbs, Sydney, New South Wales,
Gender: Male
The material on this page is available to AustLit subscribers. If you are a subscriber or are from a subscribing organisation, please log in to gain full access. To explore options for subscribing to this unique teaching, research, and publishing resource for Australian culture and storytelling, please contact us or find out more.


Script-writer, playwright, actor, speech writer, journalist, critic, and political commentator.

1942-1979: Raised as a Seventh-day Adventist, Bob Ellis 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 Australian Broadcasting Commission. His career as a theatre and film writer began almost simultaneously in the early 1970s. He initially made a name for himself with The Legend of King O'Malley (1970), co-written with Michael Boddy). The following year he contributed additional dialogue to Brian Hannant's section of the tripartite film Three to Go (in which the other two parts were written and directed by Peter Weir and Oliver Howes), as well as scripting episodes of the television series Dynasty.

In 1972, Ellis began writing for long-running soap opera Number 96, and contributed 'Boney and the Reaper' to the television series Boney (based on the novels by Arthur Upfield). Among his other works from the 1970s were episodes of Glenview High and Case for the Defence and the screenplay for Newsfront (1978), co-written with Anne Brooksbank and Phillip Noyce, for which the three authors won the 1978 AFI Award for Best Screenplay, Original. For a number of years during the 1970s Ellis was also employed as a film and theatre critic for Nation Review (ca.1973-1977).

At the same time, Ellis was still writing plays, including Big Brother Dragon (1971, co-written with Michael Boddy), Duke of Edinburgh Assassinated; or, The Vindication of Henry Parkes (1971, co-written with Dick Hall), The James Dossier (1973), Whitlam Days (1975), and Down Under (1976, co-written with Anne Brooksbank).

1980-1989: Ellis's script-writing output increased in the 1980s. In 1980, he co-wrote the screenplay for Fatty Finn with Chris McGill (based on the comic strip by Syd Nicholls) and A Very Good Year (1980)In 1981, he co-wrote ...Maybe This Time with Brooksbank. Directed by Ellis's Fatty Finn co-writer McGill, the film won Ellis and Brooksbank an AWGIE Award (1980) and a nomination for Best Screenplay, Original or Adapted at the 1980 AFI Awards. In 1983, Ellis and Brooksbank collaborated again (this time with Mark Egerton) on the script for The Winds of Jarrah (based on Joyce Dingwell's novel The House in the Timberwoods). The same year, he wrote two more screenplays. Goodbye Paradise (co-written with Denny Lawrence and directed by Carl Schultz) won the script-writers an AFI Award (Best Screenplay, Original or Adapted) and an AWGIE Award (Feature Film, Original). Man of Flowers (co-written with and directed by Paul Cox) attracted yet another AFI Award nomination for Best Screenplay, Original (as well as nominations for Best Film and Best Director).

In 1984, Ellis collaborated with German director on the West German/Australian co-production Where the Green Ants Dream (Wo die grünen Ameisen träumen). A fictionalised account of recent court cases (including Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd), the film was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival and won the award for Outstanding Feature Film (Bester Spielfilm) at the 1984 German Film Awards. The film used both professional actors and the Indigenous Australian activists who had been involved in the earlier court cases. Also in 1984, Ellis wrote My First Wife (co-written with and directed by Paul Cox), which won the script-writers another AFI Award (Best Screenplay, Original) and another AWGIE Award (Feature Film, Original).

1985 saw Ellis contribute two scripts to the Australian Children's Television Foundation (ACTF) anthology series Winners: 'The Paper Boy' (directed by frequent collaborator Paul Cox) and 'Top Kid' (directed by Goodbye Paradise collaborator Carl Schultz). He also wrote and directed Unfinished Business, which brought him AFI nominations for both Best Director and Best Screenplay, Original. (He is also credited, along with Mike Norris, with the idea for 1985 telemovie Archer, written by Brooksbank.)

In 1986, Ellis collaborated again with Paul Cox on the film Cactus, co-written by Ellis, Cox, and Norman Kaye and directed by Cox. He also contributed to the television program The Gillies Republic, whose other script-writers included Don Watson and Mungo McCallum. The following year he contributed additional dialogue to Robert Wales's Australian western Bullseye (directed by Carl Schultz) and wrote the script for the film Perhaps Love (directed by Lex Marinos). In 1988, he wrote and directed Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train (co-written with earlier collaborator Denny Lawrence) and the television mini-series The True Believers (co-written with Matt Carroll and Stephen Ramsay); the latter won the 1988 AFI Award for Best Mini-Series.

1990-2016: Ellis's television scripts in the 1990s included work on Gillies and Company (1992). In 1993, he wrote and directed The Nostradamus Kid, which won him another AWGIE Award (Feature Film, Original) and attracted another AFI Award nomination (Best Screenplay, Original). He followed this in 1994 with Ebbtide, co-written with Peter Goldsworthy and directed by Craig Lahiff. He also returned to the ACTF during the early to mid 1990s, contributing to their television program Lift Off (1992-1996). Other television work during the 1990s included scripts for crime drama Wildside (1998). Ellis's playscripts in the 1990s include Man: The Musical.

Recent works include A Local Man: A Play About Ben Chifley, co-written with Robin McLachlan (2004) and Shakespeare in Italy (2012), co-written with long-time collaborator Denny Lawrence.

Ellis died in 2016.

Most Referenced Works


  • Ellis has also written other books on politics and economics.
  • As an actor Ellis has appeared in more than a dozen films, television series and moveies, including Man Of Flowers (1983), I Own The Racecourse, Winners , and Unfinished Business (all 1985), In Mortgage (1989), The Nostrodamus Kid (1993), Water Rats (1996) and Pizza (2001-2002).

  • Ellis has also written and directed a number of documentaries, including Dreaming of Lords (1988), co-written with Ernie Dingo, which traces the formation of an Indigenous Australian cricket team; Bastards from the Bush (1998), in which Ellis journeys through his forty-year friendship with Les Murray; Run, Rabbit, Run (2007), an intimate portrait of Mike Rann's 2006 election campaign in South Australia; and Infamous Victory: Ben Chifley's Battle for Coal (2008), co-written with director Geoff Burton and tracing the events of the 1949 national miners' strike.

  • He at one time Sydney's Stables Theatre and was active in alternative theatre during the 1970s and 1980s.

  • Tape of interview with Caroline Jones held NSL.

Awards for Works

form y separately published work icon Wildside ( dir. Peter Andrikidis et. al. )agent 1997 Sydney : Gannon Jenkins Television ABC Television , 1997-1999 Z1367384 1997 series - publisher film/TV crime detective

An adult drama set in an inner-city crisis centre and police station, Wildside focuses on a group of people who deal with the endless array of problems, crimes, and triumphs that tumble onto the streets of a city bursting with life. In addition to the police, other characters include those who work in a crisis centre in the tough red-light district of the city.

won Most Outstanding Miniseries/Telemovie
1998 winner Logie Awards Most Outstanding Miniseries or Telemovie
1998 won Australian Film Institute Awards Best Mini-series or Telefeature
form y separately published work icon The Nostradamus Kid ( dir. Bob Ellis ) 1993 Sydney : Simpson Le Mesurier Films , 1993 Z367479 1993 single work film/TV

The Nostradamus Kid is a semi-autobiographical account of the early life of Bob Ellis. Protagonist Ken Elkin is a young, over-sexed, and hyperactive youth with a taste for personal melodrama. While attending an annual Seventh Day Adventist camp in 1956, he is led to believe that the end of the world is imminent and fears that his true love for the pastor's daughter will never be consummated. But the world doesn't end. Some six years later, he arrives in Sydney to attend university. While his religion has receded, Elkin's waywardly obsessive sexuality and belief in the apocalypse come to a head with the advent of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The much-anticipated apocalypse is once again postponed, however.

1993 Nominated Australian Film Institute Awards Best Original Screenplay
form y separately published work icon My First Wife ( dir. Paul Cox ) Australia : Dofine Productions , 1984 Z1692585 1984 single work film/TV
— Appears in: 3 Screenplays 1998; (p. 63-121)

When John, a composer, is told by his wife Helen that she has been having an affair, his world begins to collapse around him. Instead of attempting to address the issues that led his wife to seek solace with another man, John pursues a negative response. To make matters worse his father is dying in hospital. As John becomes more and more morose, his behaviour also becomes increasingly unpredictable, leading to incidents that are underpinned by potential violence. Unable to continue living with her husband, Helen and their daughter move out. John's attempt to suicide by overdosing on pills fails and he instead wakes up to find himself in a psychiatric unit. It is not until his father dies that John is finally able to gain perspective on the reasons for the break-down of his marriage and the extent of his loss.

(Source: Australian Screen)

1985 won AWGIE Awards Film Original
1985 Winner New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards
1984 Winner Australian Film Institute Awards Best Screenplay, Original
Last amended 18 Jun 2018 12:36:41
Influence on:
After Watching a Documentary Interview of Les Murray by Bob Ellis. Maurice Strandgard , 2002 single work poetry
Other mentions of "" in AustLit: