Rennie ellis Decade: 1970-1980


Rennie Ellis’s contribution to Australia’s cultural narrative is colossal in its importance, a heady brew, without it strip club back rooms, street hustles and the suburban mayhem of Australia may as well of not existed.

I had a pretty decent library at art school, and the one book that I always came back to was Rennie Ellis’ and Wesley Stacey’s Kings Cross Sydney, a spellbinding artifact of a bygone era of the Harbour City, I would drag it out time after time, a testimony to the striking quality of his image making. So it was no surprise that when we caught wind of Decade here at Heavy Collective we were more than a little excited.

Pulling material from 1970 through to 1980 from Ellis’s extensive archive, he describes the tome as a “distillation of the essence of the seventies” and perhaps that of Ellis himself. There is a personality, a playful wit and a mischievous spirit in Decade that shines through time and time again. This is a righteous chunk of Australiana. Bogan to beautiful;  yobbos with a skinful,  seamy encounters with ladies of the night, to the last fading glimpses of post-war Australia, found hidden in the watering holes of Stetson clad pall faces.

Decade is essentially a chronicle of the changing of the guard.  Smack dab on the frontlines, Ellis gives us candid entre into an era of cultural upheaval, of revolutionary spirit, rock and roll excess and most poignantly a massive shift of attitude. Remorsefully, bookending the decade with whispers of what would become the decadence and excess of “Disco is King” eighties.

This is what makes Rennie Ellis’s work so compelling, from the overtly excessive and debauched to the unshakably Aussie, he manages to dance eloquently on a vein of compassion and humanity.

Decade will launch at Sydney’s Australian Center for Photography in Paddington, September 7th from 2-5pm, W/ guest speakers Paul Cox and Stephen Dupont.

Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive / The Australian Center for Photography