Peter Ellis (1946-2015) was born in Bendigo, Victoria. He learned to dance with the locals in the 50s and 60s, developing a lifelong interest in social and ballroom dance. He achieved high proficiency in the ballroom dance form and maintained a lasting enthusiasm for social dance of all sorts. Peter knew and experienced a great deal of what there was to know about social dance in Australia, about particular dances and their histories and relevance to other dances in the genre, and the really good thing is that he wrote it down. With the support of the Victorian Folk Music Club he published: . "Collectors Choice Vol 1, Set Tunes, Polkas and Barn Dances for traditional dancing in Australia", 1986 . "Collectors Choice Vol 2, Traditional Music for Country Dances, Quadrilles & Cotillions in Australia", 1987 . "Collectors Choice Vol 3, Music for Old Time, New Vogue and Modern Ballroom Dances in Australia", 1988 . “Two Hundred Dancing Years-How to run a Colonial Ball” (co-authored with Shirley Andrews (A.M.), 1988 . “Music Makes Me Smile- The music of the Nariel Valley” (co-authored with Harry Gardner), Pioneer Performer Series, 1998 . “The Merry Country Dance” Vol 1, A social History and Dance descriptions, 2005, . “The Merry Country Dance and all kinds of Dance Music” Vol 2, 2007
His recordings and field notes are available in the Peter Ellis Collection of the National Library of Australia. Some of the tunes he collected are presented in this archive.
Ellis trained in industrial chemistry and worked in that capacity starting with the Bendigo Technical College in the 1960s and subsequently, as it morphed through several identities over the years, with the Bendigo Institute of Technology, and finally into the La Trobe University College of Northern Victoria in 1991. It paid the bills. But his great interests were in a concern for the environment, and dance.
He was one of the leading collectors and presenters of his time, of traditional dances, dance tunes and musical instruments in Australia. He collaborated with Shirley Andrews in locating traditional social dance in Australia, initially finding it in the Nariel Valley in 1960s. He later he worked with John Meredith, Rob Willis, Harry Gardner and many others to share his love of and enthusiasm for social dance.
Peter was a driving force behind the things he got involved with: . As an early environmentalist, he was a life member of the Bendigo Field Naturalists Club, actively involved in campaigns that establish the Whipstick and Kamarooka State Parks (now part of the Bendigo National Park) . He was a founding member of the The Bendigo Folk Club and 'boss cocky' of the "Emu Creek Band" for 35 years . Forged links across Victoria through his collecting activities and with bands extant in his time, such as the Wedderburn Old Timers, and The Gay Charmers, and through his promotion of social dance at National Folk Festivals . Bush Traditions in an executive capacity . Enjoyed bush walking and was adept at a practical joke.
Keith McKenry's interview of Peter Ellis is available in the NLA < https://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/5741464?>