By Mike Welsh
Bob Ellis who died at the weekend, has been variously described as “one of the finest scoundrels our nation has had the good fortune of sharing” (Rhys Muldoon); “the Truest of True Believers” (Kevin Rudd); and “he dispensed his views both barrels and full blast and to hell with the consequences” (Everald Compton). It’s a fair start but fails dismally to describe the essence of the writer/playwright/filmmaker/wrecker of conservative political ambitions. Muldoon probably goes as close as anyone who tried to “nail” the real Bob Ellis.
Last year I reread Goodbye Jerusalem , the 1997 book by Bob Ellis. In fact it was the second book of Bob’s I’d revisited. I had also picked up for a second time the more contemporary and less controversial 2010 Ellis political tome Suddenly, Last Winter (An Election Diary)
My copy of Goodbye Jerusalem is special because it survived a pulping publisher Random Houses was forced to undertake after legal action from Tony Abbott and Peter Costello and their spouses.
Goodbye Jerusalem was described at the time as a ‘wake’ of sorts. Ironically, Bob Ellis in public always looked as though he was in a slow motion hurry, possibly heading to or returning from the wake of yet another famous Australia actor/writer/ALP stalwart or sundry other notorious person whom he’d known for years…You wouldn’t know who Bob Ellis knew.
I only knew Bob Ellis from the many phone interviews he generously participated in for my radio program. By far, for my money, Bob’s best caper was vowing to destroy (politically) Bronwyn Bishop by taking her on in a by-election for the Blue Ribbon (Sydney) Northern Beaches seat of McKellar.
“I knew him by name only, as the author of the play The Legend of King O’Malley and was surprised when a friend assured me that he was regarded as a genius amongst Sydney’s political/intellectual push”. The friend also told McFadyen that “Women wanted to have Bob Ellis’ children.”….TV Producer Ian McFadyen
The essence of Ellis’s eccentricity and storytelling skill is in the Goodbye Jerusalem chapter, Six Degrees of Separation. Bob brilliantly demonstrates his almost unique grasp of Kevin Bacon’s game,in which a group of players attempt to connect a nominated actor to Bacon in as few steps as possible. Discussing the 1993 Fred Schepisi movie “Six Degrees of Separation” and to ease the boredom on a long road trip with director Michael Jenkins (Blue Murder, Scales of Justice), Ellis takes up the challenge and prunes Bacon’s concept further….to THREE degrees of separation. And manages to create a uniquely Australian example in the process.
Bob wrote speeches for singer Kamal who corresponded regularly with Sir Donald Bradman. Ellis’s father lived next to the Darcy family in East Maitland and sparred with a young Les Darcy. And Bob worked with the man who made Phar Lap the movie. An impressive trifecta but as Bob was wont to say often…”and so on, and so it goes”.
In almost any chapter of Bob Ellis’s illustrious and colourful life he could easily nail an entertaining result within the allotted six steps of Bacon’s popular parlour game. One of his favourites involves the late Robert Hughes (art critic not sit-com actor). Bob Hughes’ brother is the Q.C. Tom Hughes, whose daughter Lucy is married to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose Auntie is the actress Angela Lansbury, whose father George Lansbury was the British Labour leader in Britain in the 1930s.
Another book I have read more than twice is Frank Hardy’s Four Legged Lottery. Frank Hardy’s grand-daughter is the writer Merieke Hardy who has a female dog named Bob Ellis and a tattoo which reads “and so on, and so it goes”. Three degrees of separation!!!