Peter N. Ellis (1946-2015) was born in Bendigo and educated at Bendigo High School and Bendigo Technical College. In 1965 he obtained a position as a laboratory assistant at Bendigo Technical College. He remained there for 12 years and later worked as a laboratory assistant and technician in other Bendigo institutions: Flora Hill High School, Bendigo Senior Secondary College and the La Trobe University College of Northern Victoria.
As a young man, Ellis attended dances regularly and he became intensely interested in the older traditional dances. He was one of the founders of the Bush Dance and Music Club of Bendigo and was helped by Harry McQueen, Shirley Andrews and others in his search for old dances and tunes. Apart from piano lessons, he had no formal musical training, but he became proficient in a number of instruments, including button accordion, concertina, mouth organ and tin whistle. He formed the bands Break of Day and Emu Creek Bush Band, and later played with the Wedderburn Old Timers.
Collector’s Choice, compiled by Ellis and published by the Victorian Folk Music Club in three volumes in 1986–88, was the result of his extensive searches for the tunes of bush dances, quadrilles, polkas and other traditional dances. He was also the co-author with Shirley Andrews of Two Hundred Dancing Years (1988). Ellis first used a tape recorder while collecting dance music in the 1970s. He later collaborated with John Meredith on several oral history interviews. In the 1990s he devoted much of his spare time to travelling in rural Victoria collecting and recording music.
Peter Ellis donated a collection of dance music to the Library in 1989–92. In 1994 the Library began to provide him with financial assistance for his field trips and his collection of oral history recordings was acquired between 1994 and 2001.
The Peter Ellis Collection consists of 80 items recorded between 1979 and 2001, the bulk of them having been made in 1994–2001. They contain interviews with musicians, dancers and others, and recordings of songs and performances on the piano, violin, accordion, button accordion and mouth organ. As well as solo pieces, there is some band music. Most of the recordings were made in eastern and central Victoria, including Bendigo, Maryborough, St Arnaud, Charlton, Kerang, Nariel Creek, Traralgon and Wodonga.
The Peter Ellis Collection of dance music contains 232 pieces of sheet music and 202 albums. Australian imprints make up about half the collection. Most of the works were published in the period 1900–40, but there are a small number of nineteenth-century items.
A small quantity of personal papers and manuscripts are held including letters received by Ellis (1980–89), manuscript music, dance programs, lists of dance tunes, and photographs of dancers and dance programs.
The Peter Ellis oral history interviews and dance music recordings are kept together in the Oral History Collection at TRC 2379. The majority have been catalogued individually. The sheet music and albums are kept together in the Music Collection. The personal papers are housed in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 7781.
Davey, Gwenda Beed and Seal, Graham (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian Folklore, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1993, p. 107.
Meredith, John, Oral history interview with Peter Ellis, 1991, ORAL TRC 2590/17.
First posted 2008 (revised 2019)