BOB ELLIS (1942-2016)

Journalist, columnist, screenwriter, film director, playwright

TitleBob Ellis
Collection : National Portrait Gallery of Australia
Medium : Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 151.5 h x 106.0 w


Sitter Profile

Bob Ellis (1942-2016) is a journalist, columnist, screenwriter, film director and playwright. Ellis’s work for film and stage has won numerous nominations and awards for writing and direction, including three Premier’s Literary Awards.

His screenwriting credits include, among others, Newsfront and Goodbye Paradise. He wrote and directed the feature films and documentaries.  He also wrote and appeared in the ABC documentary Bastards from the Bush, about his long friendship with the poet Les Murray.  He is the author of seventeen books including Goodbye Jerusalem and Night Thoughts in Time of War.

He has had a long and close involvement with politics, covering as a journalist twenty-four campaigns in Australia, the UK and the USA, and writing speeches or slogans for a range of Labor Party leaders.

Painting Story

I first met Bob Ellis at a regular get together I used to go to with my mate Bill Leak. Bob’s pot stirring political outlook and his infamous lifestyle had me intrigued. He rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way, but like him or not his achievements and reputation as a writer and film director made him quite a unique individual.

After many months of listening to him I began observe certain contradictions, which made me decide I just had to paint a portrait of this man. Yes I could see he thrived on controversy, and unrepentantly set out to wound. He also displayed his sense of self-importance by referring to himself in the third person. There were very few people he would suffer. He was amazingly eloquent of course, but I then came to see something I think he would prefer to remain hidden. Underneath I detected a deep sense of vulnerability that was at odds, if not the cause of his extravagant aggressiveness.

So I put him in a t-shirt. When I told him what I was going to do he argued he had never worn a t-shirt in his life. So I brought one along and made him put it on. I suppose in some way I was trying to prick his ego.


Bob Ellis