Keith Ellem (left) receiving the CRCA trophy for most wickets taken during the 1953-54 season, from Joe Ford.
Keith Ellem (left) receiving the CRCA trophy for most wickets taken during the 1953-54 season, from Joe Ford.

Ellems? prince of bowlers

KEITH ELLEM, as with all six brothers in his family, has a proud record in cricket.

He is also an A grade golfer and has mastered each of the other sports he has taken on.

This includes first grade hockey as a youngster with the Veterans club and A reserve tennis and no doubt would have included rugby league, athletics and boxing as well had he continued in those sports beyond vibrant youth.

On top of that the multi talented Keith Ellem, partnered by Bobbie Triggs, has given ballroom dancing exhibitions at the Criterion hall, has a fine singing voice, choral and solo, can play the piano with gusto, has been a guest speaker and a popular MC at dances and an entertainer at concerts and parties.

As with other members of his family, he has a fondness for the racetrack and racehorses and had success in this sphere too, sharing in the ownership of two gallopers, both of which were winners.

On the other side of things he worked 13 years as a bookmaker's clerk.

In church matters as well as being in the St Mary's choir for 22 years he was a worker with the St Vincent de Paul Society for 30 years including three years as president.

Keith recounts what he believes may well be an Australian cricket record with four of the family scoring 520 runs between them in different matches in the one afternoon.

Their father, Arthur, hit up 74 with centuries to three of the brothers, Bernie 119, Lewis 160 and Russell 167.

Cricket was Keith's main sport for many years, mainly as a fast bowler.

He seemed to be able to get the extra movement and bounce out of a wicket that helped him become one of the most consistent local wicket-takers and earned him the nickname 'Voce' after England's former great fast bowler.

Week after week he would return outstanding bowling figures in inter-club or representative fixtures and for some time he held the Clarence River Cricket Association (CRCA) record for best bowling figures in first grade club cricket, 64 in a season at an amazing average of just nine runs per wicket.

For season after season during the 1950s and 1960s Keith would be among the first chosen in CRCA sides as well as winning selection in North Coast and Combined Coast (Tweed River to Dungog) sides.

That representative selection began at a young age and continued right up to his retirement from the sport.

As well there were frequent tours as a valued member of The Ellem Family cricket teams for years in well received sides that played around the North Coast, NSW and Southern Queensland.

"Those tours I was involved in were great and I have fond memories of team mates and of the many fine people we met along the way," Keith said.

So great was the Ellem Family influence on cricket in the Grafton region for more than 100 years that the cricket ground of Upper Fisher Park was in 1997 named Ellem Oval.

Since retiring from cricket at the end of the 1968/1969 season, golf has been his major sporting interest.

He had been a caddie for various players from the age of 10 on the original course in the middle of the Grafton racetrack and was paid one shilling and sixpence (15 cents) per afternoon when there were no such things as buggies or carts and it was a case of carrying the bag on your shoulder.

Keith began playing the game when 21 in 1950 and in less than 12 months was playing A grade.

Now at 75 he has a single figure handicap of seven and it has been as low as five when he was a 70 year old.

While never winning a club championship he has won numerous club tournaments such as the Herron Stakes, calcuttas, knockouts and pennants as well as scoring two holes in one, and has not had to buy a golf ball in more than 50 years.

Keith Ellem was born in Dr Earl Page's Clarence House Hospital, South Grafton in November of 1929.

The fifth of six boys ? he has no sisters ? born to Arthur and Mary Elizabeth (nee Green) Ellem.

The family, with Keith's older brothers at that stage Lewis, Russell, Bernie and Eric, lived with their parents at Kungala where Arthur was a carpenter.

A few months after Keith's birth the family moved to Grafton to live and that is where number six brother, the youngest, Don, was born.

Most of the family have moved around the State as employment dictated with some, such as Lewis, Russell and Bernie returning in time to the Jacaranda City, but Keith, except for a short period working at Taree, has always made Grafton his home.

Whether in the Clarence area or elsewhere in NSW all six represented their districts in cricket.

Keith's schooling was in the Catholic Education System as a student at Grafton's St Mary's, Infants, Primary and High schools.

World War Two raged for much of his school days and as result sports equipment was unobtainable and organised sport was virtually non-existent at many schools.

Nevertheless the students arranged their own activities at St Marys playing such games as Red Rover and the boys would play backyard cricket' on the then vacant land where St Aloysius College (later to become part of Catherine McAuley College) would be built.

The traditional garbage or kerosene tin would be a wicket and there were pick-up soccer matches with an old tennis ball replacing the round football.

Goal areas were lines drawn on a brick wall at one end of the field and a couple of trees serving for goal posts at the other.

Not high-class equipment, but many hours of joy were played there. The girls had it a bit better, being able to have a regulation sized netball (or basketball as it was then called) court on a corner of the ground and a couple of much repaired' basketballs.

Grafton Primary would play pick-up games against Ulmarra at weekends, sometimes up to 20-a-side, and Keith Ellem and his good mate John Conaghan were often invited to join in.

"If the game was at Ulmarra the Grafton boys would meet at the crossroads and ride our bikes down to that town, having races along the way," Keith said.

"We would play football and then ride home with more racing."

Keith left school towards the end of third year at high school and at 16 secured a job as an apprentice fitter with NSW Government Railways, stationed at Taree.

"After 15 months I shot it in and returned home and that 15 months was the only time I really lived away from Grafton," Keith said.

"Following that I worked with Dad at carpentering for a few months and next went to work at McKittricks Store in South Grafton as offsider to returned serviceman and driver of the store's delivery truck, Warren Smith."

During that time Reg J Want's company was building The Clarence Chambers on what had been a vacant block at the corner of Skinner and Through streets and bags of cement had to be delivered from a goods train at South Grafton railway station to the site.

There were 984 bags in all, each weighing 94 Pounds (42.6 kg) and Warren and Keith manually off-loaded them one at a time from the train and stacked them on the truck, making nine trips in all to deliver them to the Clarence Chambers site.

"There we manually off-loaded and stacked the cement stairwise ready for the builders.

"Overall we carried and stacked around 93 hundredweight (43.2 tonnes) off the train and onto the truck and the same again off the truck and onto the stairway built pile," Keith said.

"We started early one morning and completed the job around mid-afternoon.

"In 1949 I left McKittricks and worked at Schaeffers Hardware Store for 10 years and then spent over 16 years employed on clerical duties with Bulk Freights here in Grafton.

"Then for the next 20 years until retiring, I was storekeeper at the Grafton City Council Depot."

Tracing back to Keith's early years in cricket, his career started in 1948 when his brother Russell (Rusty) ) asked him if he would fill in for the St Mary's Colts when they were one short and so it began.

Next season he was full time with Colts and he remembers that each member, with the exception of Russell, who was captain coach, was under the age of 21.

From the Colts Keith moved to the Westlawn Cricket Club and in the 1953/1954 season set the then CRCA bowling record of 64 wickets.

This involved his sending down 225 overs (1800 deliveries in eight-ball overs) which included 40 maidens and meant averaging a wicket every 3.5 overs.

During his career Keith played with just three CRCA clubs, Colts and Westlawn and for a while with Central.

He never played other then first grade, even in his early years with Colts which was a team playing in open competition.

He shared in a CRCA premiership with Colts and a number with the Westlawn Club.

Three times Keith was named in the top five CRCA Cricketers of the Year in the annual CRCA Year Book compiled by Daily Examiner sub-editor, later editor/manager, John Moorhead.

Keith was 25 when, in 1955, he married Phil Ryan. They have a son Tony and daughter Kathryn and there are six grandchildren, four boys and two girls.

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