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Bob Ellis
, 1999

by David Naseby

oil on canvas (151.5 x 106.0 cm)

Bob Ellis (1942–2016) was a journalist, columnist, screenwriter, film director, playwright, speechwriter and critic. His screenwriting credits, Newsfront, Goodbye Paradise, Maybe This Time, Fatty Finn, Top Kid and The Paper Boy all won major prizes, as did his collaborations with Paul Cox, Man of Flowers and My First Wife. For the stage, he collaborated with Michael Boddy on The Legend of King O’Malley. Having run unsuccessfully against Bronwyn Bishop for the seat of Mackellar in 1994, Ellis was answerable for the sensational ‘Abbott and Costello’ defamation case in March 1999. Finding assertions made in a short passage of his 1997 book Goodbye Jerusalem: Night Thoughts of a Labor Outsider false and defamatory, the judge ruled that his publisher pay compensation of $277,500 to Liberal politicians Peter Costello and Tony Abbott and their wives. Later, in the course of criticizing Julia Gillard, Ellis was to praise Abbott’s manners and intellect. His later books include The Capitalism Delusion (2009) and One Hundred Days of Summer (2010). The Ellis Laws, the author’s ten ‘laws’ of life, was published by Penguin in 2014.

Naseby met Ellis through Les Murray, his friend of forty years’ standing, and he comments that seeing the two men together was ‘awe-inspiring’. This painting was done at the time of the publication of Goodbye Jerusalem. Naseby intended to refer to the ‘Abbott and Costello’ affair in the work but was dissuaded by friends from doing so. He writes that Ellis ‘loves a stoush’ and that he painted Ellis in a t-shirt because it ‘made him look like the scrapper he is’.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds from the Basil Bressler Bequest 2001
Accession number: 2001.2