Earlier I wrote how much Murray Bain supported the working Stud Manager and Stud Groom. On the strength of that philosophy I dedicated my website to such a person: Alec Herbert. I also cited the Murray Bain Service to Industry Award we instituted. Cliff Ellis was in the Bradman Class. We in the industry do not always adequately honour our loyal ‘servants’.
Clifford Douglas Ellis
Photograph taken in ‘Geraldton’ Courtyard
CLIFFORD DOUGLAS ELLIS (born 27/12/26 at Denman)
It is an incredible honour and even greater privilege to be asked by Cliff, Jennifer, Tim and Rebecca to deliver this encomium on their behalf which we have compiled together.
Cliff Ellis was born on his father’s dairy property “Ravenswood” situated between Denman and Jerry’s Plains on 27th December 1926. One of 5 children he was a great-great grandson of Thomas Ellis a noted Upper Hunter pioneer settler who came out from Devon, England in 1837 to manage George Bowman’s property “Ärrowfield” now renamed “Coolmore” at Jerry’s Plains. On his mother’s side of the family Cliff also descends from a noted solid early settler. He is a great-great grandson of London commodities broker John Wood who migrated to NSW in 1818. Wood is remembered as an explorer and pioneer settler, who squatted on previously unknown country to the south west of Cowra where he established the mighty Brundah Station. The town of Grenfell grew up on part of Brundah after gold was discovered there in the 1860s.
Born in the mid-1920s leading to the height of the great depression, Cliff’s early life was one of hard work around the farm. His formal schooling was cut short with the outbreak of World War II when his father found it impossible to obtain enough outside labour to milk the cows and help run the farm. However life was not all drudgery as he and each of his siblings always had their own ponies; for Cliff the genesis of his life-long passion for horses. Their home also boasted a tennis court which resulted in Cliff becoming a more than proficient tennis player.
The sale of the family farm in 1949 saw the start of Cliff’s love affair with racing and the breeding of thoroughbred horses. He left the cloistered environs of the Denman dairy industry and ventured into the exciting world of the thoroughbred horse in the magnificent Widden Valley. It is no exaggeration to say that the Widden Valley always remained his spiritual home. He started work at the Harris family owned Holbrook Stud where he initially went to break in and educate young horses. He stayed there for about 4 years receiving a thorough grounding in the care and handling of horses by the late Bill Harris with sons Alan and John. Education of both young horses and young people were the seminal drivers in Cliff’s professional life. Cliff first attended the Sydney Easter Yearling Sales in 1951.
Cliff’s next move in 1953 was just a few miles down the valley. After leaving Holbrook Stud he commenced employment under the guidance of Tom Flynn at the newly established Oakleigh Stud. Here Cliff and Tom’s son Ross perfected the growing and presentation of yearlings for sale. Their work was later emulated by many of the prominent studs. In 1961 Tom Flynn bought Emu Vale; another property in the Widden Valley. In that year Cliff married Jennifer Crockett of Double Bay, Sydney. Cliff was given the job of managing Emu Vale a property devoted mainly to the production of fine beef cattle for the Sydney market. Horses were not excluded. Emu Vale also became a spelling place for racehorses as well as the country where Oakleigh’s dry mares were over wintered. It was at Emu Vale in October 1967 that I first met Cliff and Jennifer Ellis.
Whilst living at Emu Vale Cliff and Jennifer’s son Timothy was born. When Tim reached school age Cliff made the big decision to leave his beloved Widden Valley. After living there for over 21 years he took up employment closer to town where education facilities could be more readily accessed. (Tim – Cliff was immensely proud of your innate ability to take full advantage of the opportunities in both secondary and tertiary education which prevailing circumstances may have denied him. It’s a hoary old cliché but a truism nonetheless that your late father was a graduate with first class honours in the University of Life. He read very widely and was entirely self-taught). In 1971 Cliff commenced employment as Manager of the Mitchell family’s Yarraman Park Stud near Scone. His influence here was tremendous and he was responsible for quite a few young people making a successful career in the horse industry. The owner/manager relationship flourished and still endures today with Arthur, Billy & especially Harry Mitchell represented here today by close confidante Paul Hennessy. Cliff also acted for a short time as mentor and advisor while Brian Agnew established Wakefield Stud at nearby Redbank.
While still living in the Widden Valley Cliff and Jenifer bought a small property at Parkville which they named Kingdon Farm. In 1979 Cliff deemed it time to branch out on his own and the family made the move to Kingdon Farm. Here Cliff specialised in preparing sale yearlings for a select clientele. This new venture was successful so much so that in 1983 the yearlings Cliff prepared topped not only the individual price but also the aggregate total at the Inglis Sydney Easter Yearling Sales. Champion ‘Tie the Knot’ owned and bred by Sandy Tait & Family was the most illustrious graduate of the Ellis’ Kingdon Farm Academy of Equine Excellence. Hawkesbury River celebrity swimmer ‘Johnno’ who won the Scone Cup in 1959 was the best of the Ellis family’s home bred winners. Thank you Brian Russell!
Cliff finally retired in 2000 and he and Jennifer took up residence in Scone.
SOME IMPORTANT DATES IN CLIFF’S CAREER:
- Elected an inaugural Committee Member of the Hunter Valley Blood Horse Breeders Association in the 1970s.
- Long term committee member of Scone Race Club
- In 1987 was awarded the Hunter Valley Blood Horse Breeders Association’s Murray Bain Service to Industry Award.
- Scone Horse Week VIP in 1999
- Commenced teaching Horse Industry Course at TAFE in 1989
Avuncular Educator, Tutor, Mentor, Advocate, Friend & Family
Vocational Education and Training is all about knowledge, skills and attitudes; highly desirable attributes which Cliff Ellis accumulated in spades throughout a lifetimes’ experience. Happily Cliff chose to share these liberally: he devoted his later years in conveying as much of this as he possibly could to his young charges. The following quotation (10 years ago) is fairly typical:
“I taught for many years at TAFE. I had a short formal education but read all the textbooks around and picked up the mistakes in them. Of course I learned a lot from them as well. We had some very talented students studying the stud groom’s course at TAFE many of whom are still in the industry in positions of responsibility. I still hear from quite a few of them. The students who gave me the most satisfaction however were the less talented who tried hard. I always tried to help them out as much as I could. If they got 48% working their tail off, I’d give them 53. I’d also shoot and bury any residual ego. We resurrected many young people. One of the ones got 48; I gave her 53 and she has never been out of a job since she left TAFE. Maybe I gave her a bit of a chance. I like to think so”.
Cliff derived a mildly mischievous and somewhat perky delight in circumventing the stifling didactic strictures imposed by the gargantuan educational bureaucracy which was and is the NSW TAFE Commission. Pedagogue colleagues Mark Judge, Mike and Mia Thew might concur.
Facebook & Social Media
My spouse Sarah posted a notice on ‘Facebook’ which drew a huge response largely from young people scattered around the globe. The following wish to make tribute to Cliff and his mentorship: Beck Driggers-Bowd (Charleston, SC who may or may not have been the beneficiary of Cliff’s liberal interpretation of assessment)), Morag Borsje-Bain (Lennox Head), Kirsty Howey (Darwin), Katrina McCosker-Payne (Scone), George Fraser (Scone), Lisa Randle (Scone), Jenny Dawson (Scone), Sean Hush (Scone), Georgie Mackay (Pindimar), Beverley Goode (Scone), Jane Mactier (Scone), Dianne Van Balen (Scone), Lorraine Gleeson (Scone), Jess Faras (Scone), Robyn Gaiter (Scone).
Close friend Brian Russell posted on ‘Breednet’ ( www.breednet.com.au ) which immediately informed the thoroughbred world.
Thesaurus Trawling: ‘Nobleman’; ‘Aristocrat’; ‘Squire’; ‘Grandee’; ‘Aesthete’;
‘Courteous Person’ – YES Sartorial – YES! Did you ever see Cliff in Kelly Street? Immaculate in Akubra hat, wool tie, Gloucester shirt, moleskins and RM boots polished to perfection. Even on his pushbike from Satur Cliff exuded true class. Cadel Evans never ever looked so good.
“He’s a gentleman: look at his boots” George Bernard Shaw Pygmalion (1916) Act I
‘A man of chivalrous instincts, fine feelings & good breeding’ Concise Oxford English
Cricket Analogy and ‘The Urn’
While Cliff may or may not have been the ‘Bradman’ of Stud Managers the master of style ‘Victor Trumper’ has an authentic ring to it! I do like cricketing analogies and Cliff was a very fine cricketer; I believe a more than competent wicket keeper/batsman. He made it to 87 on 27/12/13 – a highly significant number in the Aussie Cricket genre. A few short weeks ago on the veranda of the Walter Pye wing @ SMH he and I celebrated Australia’s Ashes securing win at the WACA. Cliff waxed eloquently about the outstanding achievement of the current Aussie side. He especially liked the contribution of the ‘old blokes’; in particular fellow country-raised wicket keeper/batsman Brad Haddin. Dryly he intoned the bucolic philosophical mantra: ‘An old dog for a hard road; puppies for pavements’. This was the last intelligible conversation I enjoyed with Cliff. I took the urn with me.
The Urn is emblematic of both ‘cupid and cupidity’. Hon Ivo Bligh (8th. Lord Darnley) regained the Ashes in Australia in 1882 following the famous ‘Demon’ Fred Spofforth inspired victory earlier in England which gave rise to the celebrated obituary to English cricket in the London Sporting Times.
At its very best the urn is a refulgent tribute to true love and devotion. It was presented to the Hon Ivo Bligh by some redoubtable Melbourne Ladies one of whom was Florence Murphy employed as a music teacher at ‘Rupertswood’, the home of Sir William Clarke. The urn was purported to contain the residual ashes of a set of sacrificial burned bails. Florence Murphy later became Lady Darnley and on the death of her husband in 1927 bequeathed the urn and its contents to the MCC. Lady Florence’s 82 year old daughter-in-law put the record straight – the urn contained the ashes of an incinerated veil once the property of the neophyte Florence Murphy. Its’ oeuvre is redolent of the relationship enjoyed by Cliff and Jenny; complimented by Tim and latterly Rebecca.
I took this urn as a symbol to the SCG at the week end. I like to believe there were some evocative spiritual ashes contained therein.
I will leave the last word to the late Clifford Douglas Ellis so quintessentially Cliff:
‘In conclusion I would like to say that I have lived through a most interesting and stimulating period in the thoroughbred industry meeting people from all walks of life’.
As a wise man once said: We are all equal on the turf – and under it’!
Vale Clifford Douglas Ellis – True and Fine Gentleman – we are here not merely to mourn but also celebrate a brilliant life so very well lived.
Email from Jennifer Ellis 14/04/2108:
Bill, Thank you for all the memorabilia that you have sent me. Most of the things you sent have brought back very pleasant memories. I must confess that I was rather teary eyed when reading about Cliff! You are quite right when you gave Cliff the appellation of “a gentleman.” He was certainly that, in his dealings with his family and friends. I must admit to having a smile on my face when you reminisced about noticing Cliff’s .”sartorial splendour” when meeting him in Kelly Street! Cliff was hardly ever to be seen without a tie, you were quite right, but he hadn’t worn moleskins since we left the Widden Valley. He did wear light fawn coloured jeans.
When reading your family history, I noticed that you mentioned that your family came to England from Normandy in 1068, just 2 years after William the first. Cliff had illustrious ancestors, too. One was “the Gallant Fitzwalter ” who was one of the barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. Cliff descends from a Saxon, named Walter, hence the baron Fitzwalter. Some years ago I conducted research into his family, and, with the help of the Professor of Medieval History at Lancaster University, I was able to find Cliff’s direct ancestor in every generation from Walter up until the present day. Another interesting ancestor of Cliff’s was Sir Thomas Stanley, the first Earl of Derby who was responsible for ending the dreary Wars of the Roses by killing Richard the second and securing the throne for King Henry V11.
But my favourite predecessors of Cliff.’s were his Manx ancestors, the Mylecharane family. Cliff was particularly proud of them, as they had a Fletcher Christian amongst their numbers. Mylecharane is an interesting name. It is not strictly Manx but pure Celtic. Its derivation is from Mac Giola Ciranan, meaning son of Saint Ciranan, who was the monk sent by Saint Patrick to convert the Manx people to Christianity. Monks in those days, c.500 AD used to leave offspring, legitimate or not.
Ellis Family History
Arrowfield was the name of the historic farm at Jerry’s Plains (probably the first farm in the area), pioneered and owned by George Bowman (hence “Arrowfield”) circa 1828. Bowman had a large convict constructed stone homestead built on it. William Bowman, George’s brother, travelled to England and recruited Thomas Ellis from ‘Chaddlehanger’ in Devon to come out to the colony to manage it. Thomas Ellis arrived at Jerry’s Plains in 1837. The Ellis family bought ‘Arrowfield’ from the Bowmans at the turn of the 20th Century but later sold it back to Bowmans! The original property is now owned and operated by ‘Coolmore Stud’. (JE)
Goodness me, you will be sorry you started me on history, of the family variety in particular. Kind regards as ever, Jenifer.
January 9 2014 – 9:25AM
Racing hero farewelled
Thousands will have fond memories of Cliff Ellis, one of the Hunter Valley’s most respected horsemen who passed away at Scone on the night of December 30 three days after his 87th birthday.
For a quarter of a century until his retirement from the saddle in 2011, he was one of the leaders on horseback in the annual Horse Festival parade at Scone in May each year, an imposing figure, the epitome of the horseman and of the history of the horse in the Hunter Valley, a region in which he lived all his life.
Denman born and raised on the family’s dairy farm between that town and Jerrys Plains, Cliff was the second youngest of five children, a great grandson of Thomas Ellis, a stockman who migrated from Devon in England in 1837 to manage the settlement established at Jerrys Plains under the name of Arrowfield, now home for thoroughbred breeding giant Coolmore, by one of the Upper Hunter’s foremost pioneers, George Bowman.
Cliff had eminent pioneer pastoralists on both sides as his mother descended from John Wood, a London commodities broker who moved to New South Wales in 1818.
He squatted on 180,000 acres of country which he called Brundah Station southwest of what is Cowra.
The town of Grenfel is on Brundah.
John Wood was also one of the fathers of the Australian Thoroughbred.
In particular, he imported mares from Chile in South America which became the foundation of the horse breeding stock on Brundah and which no doubt can be found in some modern horses with colonial heritage.
Educated at a small bush school, Cliff, because of the shortage of labour owing to the war, went to work on the dairy farm at 14.
Fortunately for the horse world, the farm was sold in 1949 and he began more than 50 years involvement following a love of the thoroughbred.
The first 20 were in the historic Widden Valley, the first four breaking in and educating horses under Bill Harris at his family’s Holbrook, then the home for the very good imported sire Persian Book.
The balance was with the Flynns, Tom and his managing son Ross, at neighbouring Oakleigh and also Emu Vale, a holding accessed through the Widden Stud.
It was managed for a time by Cliff.
An outstanding source of good horses for over half a century in the ownership of Herbert Thompson, a member of the Widden Stud pioneer family, Oakleigh was developed through the efforts of Ross Flynn and Cliff Ellis from the early 1950s into one of Australia’s most upmarket studs with the top sire being the importation Red Gauntlet.
They pioneered modern methods of preparing yearlings for sale embracing feeding and handling from weaning and sale grooming which are practiced by most major vendors today.
In presentation the Oakleigh yearlings, many of them shown in the ring by Cliff, were the jewels of the Inglis Easter sales in the 1960s.
Big moments in the life of Cliff Ellis while at Oakleigh included the win of a horse he bred and sold, the Jack Green (Sydney) trained Hua gelding Johnno in track record time in the 1959 Scone Cup – total prize money $1,550, his marriage to Jenifer Crockett in 1961 and his topping of the fourth day (small vendors) of the 1962 Easter sale with a Pirate King half-brother to Johnno.
The price of 3,000 guineas ($6,300) was good money at the time.
Johnno, by the way, became a celebrity again when, after being caught up in a major flood on the Hawkesbury, he swam some considerable distance to safety and was found sheltering on the verandah of a house.
The Ellis family Cliff, Jen and their then five-year-old son Tim, left the remoteness of Widden Valley in 1971 and he became the stud manager for England born Major James Mitchell, the owner of Yarraman Park, a stud farm at Scone which he acquired from famous jockey George Moore.
Yarraman Park flourishes today under the management of Major Mitchell’s sons Arthur and Harry.
The wisdom of Cliff Ellis was very valuable for young horsemen learning their trade at Yarraman Park.
Two who went on to prominence as trainers are Guy Walter – a number one Sydney trainer and Murray Johnson.
Murray flies the flag for Australia in America – a country in which one of his runners, Perfect Drift, finished third in the Kentucky Derby.
A great joy for Cliff and Jenifer was the entrusting into their care for foaling down and walking into a sire in 1994 of Sandy Tait’s and Jill Nivison’s Whiskey Road mare Whisked.
A son of the Blushing Groom sire Nassipour, the foal subsequently raced as the gelded Tie the Knot out of the Guy Walter stables at Warwick Farm, winning 21 races, 13 Group 1s and earning $6,212,835.
He was one of a number of good horses delivered by the Ellis’ after they left Yarraman Park and established an agistment complex – Kingdon Farm at Parkville near Scone in1979.
The primary focus was the preparation and care of clients’ mares, growing their offspring and marketing yearlings.
In 1983 yearlings prepared by Cliff Ellis topped not only the individual price, but also the aggregate price at the Easter Sale.
They also stood the sires Piccolino, Sungazer and Blazing Ruler and for about a dozen years Cliff lectured on the Horse Industry at the Scone TAFE.
Retired to Scone in 2000, Cliff was a major contributor to Scone racing and breeding administration for a quarter of a century.
He served on the Race Club committee for many years and was a foundation committee member of the Hunter Valley Bloodhorse Breeders’ Association.
He was so highly respected that in1987 he was awarded the Hunter Valley Bloodhorse Breeders Service to Industry Award and in 1999 was the Scone Horse Festival VIP. He was also made a Life Member of the Scone Race Club.
Cliff is survived by Jenifer, his wife for over 50 years, their son Timothy and his wife Rebecca, “the daughter he always wanted”.
A funeral service conducted at St Luke’s Anglican Church Scone on Tuesday was followed by private cremation.