WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander listeners are advised that the following episode may contain the names of deceased persons.
Proud Yuin and Bidjigal man Gary Ella grew up in La Perouse with 11 other siblings in the 1960s and 70s and has had a successful career in Rugby Union, representing Australia overseas with the Wallabies. Gary continues to live in the Randwick local government area and gives back to both his local community and sport in Australia.
About this episode
In Episode 1, Gary Ella talks about growing up in the Randwick City Council suburb of La Perouse in the 1960s and 70s. This was a time of large families, woodfire stoves and earning pocket money the hard way. Equally tough were the games played with friends who lived in the neighbourhood. A game of touch on the dirt or bitumen roads could cause a lot of injuries, but it also fine-tuned those quick hand skills that the Ella brothers were known for.
Gary’s personal recollections of diving for coins off the wharf, fishing for mullet and lobster in Botany Bay, collecting rats for the Snakeman, and later, his recruitment for the Wallabies, the overseas trips and visiting the Queen, are colourful to say the least.
Duration: 41min 59sec
Gary Ella: Top of his game. Published 9th May 2018, accessed 20th May 2020. Randwick City Council.
Gary Ella - ESPN Scrum. Accessed 20th May 2020. Rugby Union player and officials listing.
The Ella family. Accessed 20th May 2020. Ellavation foundation website.
The Ella brothers: the pop stars of Aussie rugby. Brendan Gallagher. Published 30th November 2017, accessed 20th May 2020. The Rugby Paper.
RANDWICK LOCAL LEGENDS, EPISODE 1, GARY ELLA
Chelsea Hunter: Hi, you're listening to local legends, the podcast that explores the history of Randwick City through the recollections of locals who know and love the area. I'm Chelsea Hunter and with me is Gary Ella, a proud Yuin and Bidjigal man who's had a successful career in rugby union. He grew up in La Perouse in the 1960s with 11 brothers and sisters. Gary, thank you so much for joining us.
Gary Ella: It's a pleasure.
Chelsea Hunter: Gary, I'd like to start with your 11 siblings. Tell me about what that was like growing up in a household …
Gary Ella: That was absolute chaos. Could you imagine five sisters, and seven brothers living together in just two bedrooms? There was a third bedroom but that was obviously for my parents who, you know, slept in that bedroom, but all the other seven boys in one bedroom. So, there was three double bunks and one single.
And you know that was just chaotic. It was just fighting for beds all over the place because you can imagine there was no other room for wardrobes or cupboards or anything. Most of our clothes and belongings were just left on our beds. So, they were left on the beds during the day and during the evening they were just on the floor once we got into bed.
And my sisters were sort of bunking into one, super large mattress on the floor, but they had another single in there. So, it was quite chaotic.
Dinnertime was chaotic. My mother was a very good cook, luckily, but she had to cook on an open fire. So, the stove was just an open fire type stove. So we used to chop wood outside and every couple of days we'd have to get in the car and go up to New South Wales ( Golf Club) to St. Michael’s golf course and chop down a tree and bring back some wood, chopped down for later on to dry out. But we'd pick up the stuff that we chopped early on and bring it down so yeah, it was fairly chaotic.
It was a stage where, as I mentioned, three bedrooms, one power point in the house. That used to be for the TV, or we used to fight for it constantly if anyone wanted to put some music on. So that was a bit as I said, it was madness. But it was a happy household. And we're all very competitive. But we all have similar views on things. We weren't fighting too often; it was more the choice of the TV stations was probably the biggest even though there was only the ABC, 9, 10 and 7. But it was also a happy household. And I think that the parents did a really good job to make sure that we were pretty level and pretty settled and everybody enjoyed living in the house.
Chelsea Hunter: What were the age ranges?
Gary Ella: If you look at it now, my eldest sister just turned 70, that was about two years ago, so I think that my next eldest sister has just turned 70 as well. The youngest in the family is 50, so between probably about 20 years there were 12 kids produced at that stage.
Chelsea Hunter: Wow, so what were mum and dad doing? What were their roles?
Gary Ella: Mum was a mum. Looking after that many kids that's what her career was. But my father used to work as the Weighing Gate Master at Total and Boral at the oil refinery there at Botany. So, the trucks used to come in, and you used to weigh them, and send them out. But he used to do that during the daytime. But he also was a professional fisherman. During his spare time, it was out in the boat either catching fish or fishing on the beaches, particularly the mullet and salmon, they used to put the net around them.
Chelsea Hunter: So that's in Botany?
Gary Ella: That was in Botany, that was in Congwong Bay, Frenchmen’s Bay and Yarra, Yarra beach. So, we spent a fair bit of time down there helping him catch fish on weekends. During the winter that was changed from pulling in fish to pulling in lobsters. Because, you know, during the winter months, the lobsters actually start to move and they feed, so we had the whole crayfish, and lobster pots all over Botany Bay basically, we used to get in a rowboat, and you used to row across to Kurnell and out past, Henry’s Head and all those places. Pulling in lobsters.
Chelsea Hunter: This would have been before there was a lot of industry built.
Gary Ella: There was there was industry growing in the in the area. I mean, Total was still the oil refinery and it took a lot and the power station at Bunnerong Road was there as well. There was a fair bit of that type of activity going on. And that's where most of the people that were living at La Perouse were employed. The paper mill was there as well. It wasn't so much a harbour, because most of that area, the bayside part of it, was just the beaches and rocks and things. It was pretty pristine in those particular days.
Chelsea Hunter: Has the fishing changed much since those days?
Gary Ella: It's not as good as it was. I don't necessarily think that's because of the harbour, because there has been a lot of cleaning of the waterways and it’s starting to get back. I just think that the grass beds have been damaged a little bit, we still get the mullet and the salmon traveling past but you know, the bream and the snapper and the Jewfish is not as good as it used to be.
Chelsea Hunter: How long did it take you to row over to Kurnell?
Gary Ella: Oh not long, it's 10, 15 minutes.
Chelsea Hunter: It depends on who's rowing.
Gary Ella: It depends who's rowing and that's generally when my father was doing it, and he was quite a strong man, he'd get across fairly quickly - he was fairly quick at it. If one of the brothers was on it, there were generally two brothers working together and him sitting at the back giving the orders and making sure that we kept in time, so it was always fairly quick.
It was a bit scary at times, when the big seas were on because you know, craypots are near the rocks so, get them up, get them out and get out of there basically. When they used to haul a fish over at Little Connie (Little Congwong Beach), they used to come back and we'd have a boat with no net in it anymore but it was just full of fish right to the edge; and then he used to come through under the bridge. He used to wait for the surf and then he used to surf the boat under the bridge through all the pylons to get through, because he said it took too long if you had to go right around the bombie off Bare Island. And that was always a long way, so we always took the shortcut.
Chelsea Hunter: Oh, wow, it sounds like a gutsy way to take a shortcut.
Gary Ella: Ah, he was pretty good at it.
Chelsea Hunter: I can imagine. So, you used to eat quite a bit of fish and I believe you do tell some stories about having some interesting sandwiches for school?
Gary Ella: Going to school yeah, because as mentioned 12 kids, not the richest family going around, living just off the mission of Lapa (La Perouse), used to be the case of the choice between devon and tomato sauce or lobster or abalone. $5 a mouthful.
Chelsea Hunter: That's fantastic lunch. Certainly different from the lunches that you'd have now.
Gary Ella: Exactly, exactly.
Chelsea Hunter: Do you look back on those days of lobster sandwiches?
Gary Ella: Yeah. What have you got? Oh, just lobster again.
Chelsea Hunter: What are your strongest memories of growing up in La Perouse?
Gary Ella: Probably, revolves around the family a fair bit and plus the fact that you know, I lived in Tasman Street. We had cousins on one side of us that had something like seven kids. We had 12, the Lesters on the other side had nine boys and one girl and then cousins across the road were a family of seven, and it was like that all the way down the street. Every afternoon there’d be a game of touch football or there’d be a game of cricket depending on the seasons. And we used to play, On the bitumen was touch, and then on the grass, because there was no curb and guttering and there were no fences, was tackle. People talk about how good the Ella hands were and I can tell you that it was developed out of fear. Because no one liked to get tackled on the road and so the hand skills developed very quickly.
Chelsea Hunter: Avoidance of getting tackled, yeah, that's a good training ground, isn't it? It is risky but good. What were there, aside from playing sport on the streets with the rest of the kids on your street, what was there for the kids to do in this place?
Gary Ella: During the summer months we used to spend a lot of time down on the beaches, particularly the wharf at Frenchman’s Bay. It used to have that beautiful Paragon restaurant and shops so we used to get a lot of tourists coming down so we used to ask the man to chuck some coins in the water and we used to dive in after them, and it’s amazing, tourists used to come down. Our parents used to send us off in the morning, don’t come back until the evening. Not the slightest bit worried about us not having lunch cause we'd all have always have enough money from the diving to do that. When the wharf was knocked down in the storm, we ended up then moving to the bridge cross to Bare Island and started doing it there as well.
Chelsea Hunter: So people would throw the coins in?
Gary Ella: We would dive in after them and pick them up. As they were sinking we would dive in after them, used to be fights under the water. If you grabbed it, someone would be trying to get it out of your hands before you surfaced. As I said it was very competitive.
The other thing that we used to do to raise a fair bit of pocket money, particularly just before Easter, because the show was always such a highlight to look forward to. We used to go a lot to New South Wales Golf Course and caddy. We'd be up at four o'clock in the morning, make sure we had our best clothes on, they were ironed ready to go, and we were clean. And then we used to walk up and then we’d line up for the jobs. If you got up there early and got an early job it always meant that you could do two for the day so you could caddy 18 holes or you could caddy 36.
And then after the jobs, if we had time and if there was some daylight left, we could then go look for golf balls in the bush, and then sell them back to the club before the club closed. So that was always an adventure because there's plenty of snakes and creepy spiders and a lot of spider webs that you used to walk into. It was a good time, it’s all part of growing up.
Chelsea Hunter: Wow it's very industrious of you. You would have been up at four o'clock in the morning and then back by…?
Gary Ella: Ah probably about five or six o'clock in the evening. We had to get back to sell the golf balls before they close which was generally about half past four.
Chelsea Hunter: A long day. I bet that you slept well that night.
Gary Ella: Yeah, it used to be okay. We used to stop for milkshakes on the way back. We’d get two dollars for 18 holes and then spend 50 cents on milkshakes so our hard work was gone. We actually made more money, I think, selling the golf balls back to the golfers.
Chelsea Hunter: Yeah, yeah, I can imagine. When did the wharf at La Perouse go down?
Gary Ella: 1974, I remember because we were watching horror movies at Lloyd Walker’s, who played for the Wallabies as well. We were over at his place on the mission at Lapa (La Perouse) and watching it and we heard his windows fall in, because the wind started getting that strong, scared the hell out of all of us. So, we then looked outside, saw, the waves were coming in and, watching the oil tankers go up and down, we said, we’re got to get out of here?
And then when we came back the next morning the Paragon was demolished, the wharf was gone. What had happened was, they had a quite a large boat on the skids that they bring the boats up on and they work on the bottom of it, those were the boats that use the surface soil tankers, take food and fresh supplies out there too. Well, one of them was knocked off the off the skids and then it destroyed the wharf and then it was being washed up against the restaurant as well. It all went down.
That was a good day the next day because all the cans of coke and the whole packet of chips and all sorts of things were washed up on the beach. And so the boys got the wheelbarrow and went down on the beach.
Chelsea Hunter: I love how industrious you all were, seizing those opportunities.
Gary Ella: Yeah you’re got to be quick.
Chelsea Hunter: You used to hang out at Yarra Bay quite a lot and cook some fish over open fires there?
Gary Ella: Well, all the beaches around La Perouse, because you know, they used to have some success fishing early in the morning, we'd be there all day. There’d be nice little fires being built and unknown to the person who actually owned the business, we’d go and pick the biggest mullet or the biggest snapper or the biggest fish that we could buy. And then just lay them down on the coals, and then just turn them over, we always took salt with us. We used to just pick the fish from the fire, to actually eat it, that was really good.
This was great because it used to be cold a lot as well, because they seem to have more success when the southerlies were blowing. My father used to have a saying that when the spiders are traveling north, then the fish are traveling north as well. And when he was talking about spiders, he was talking about the grass weeds that used to blow across with the wind. Yeah, like the tumbleweeds in the westerns. A lot of those type of plants. When they were blowing and we could see them coming, that’s when we get excited about the fish.
Chelsea Hunter: Oh, wow. So do you have a favourite fish recipe now?
Gary Ella: You still can't go past just frying them.
Chelsea Hunter: Just frying them one the frying pan, a little salt.
Gary Ella: Yes, nice and crispy when you take them off the skin? You can’t beat it.
Chelsea Hunter: Did you have a preferred beach to swim at?
Gary Ella: We always swim at Frenchmen’s, whether we were at the wharf or just back towards the mission. When I say the mission, the Aboriginal community back there. It was always a little bit further from the bus stop, a little bit further away from the parking, so pretty much just family, and kids down that end of the beach, before it got, before someone publicised that was one of Sydney's best kept secrets and all of a sudden, for years after that it got more and more packed, everyone came down.
These days I don’t mind going to Yarra Beach, halfway up, where council have put in some of the pathways down to the water, it’s quite good up that way these days.
Chelsea Hunter: So how many people would have been living on the mission at the time?
Gary Ella: There would have been a couple of hundred. When we first grew up, it was just a shanty thing. It was just makeshift houses that were built from corrugated iron, and just materials that were dumped, pretty much out at our Lapa (La Perouse) at different stages. So, there would have been close to 40 probably 50 different residences with a few people living in them.
Chelsea Hunter: And what are the boundaries that we're talking about?
Gary Ella: We're talking Endeavour Avenue We're talking Elaroo Avenue So, if you have a look in that particular area where it's fairly grassy at the moment, where there are new houses that are built on the old mission, there's now fences and everything there. So, it used to extend a little bit further down towards the beach during those days, but it was lots of kids on there too. We used to have a lot of competitions the Tasman Street mob versus the mission kids, whether it was touch or football or cricket or all out just war. We'd always meet somewhere; it was always fairly competitive.
Chelsea Hunter: I'm really interested to hear what your thoughts on what growing up in a community like that was like and how it shapes you as a person.
Gary Ella: One thing that we did with the Aboriginal community is we always respected the elder people that came to visit or the elders, the grandmothers, the aunts, even if they weren't blood Aunts, you always still call them aunts and uncles but you always showed them a fair bit of respect. And when they put their foot down, you got pulled into line very quickly.
One of the ways that my mother used to make all the ends meet and financial list was card games. It was like a little casino at our place on weekends. So the card game would start at four o'clock in the afternoon and it would be still going the next morning, which was fine because, you know, each hand was played with 10 people playing at once, and sometimes it was two lots of 10 in different rooms. They’d put 20 cents or two Bob, in a jar, and that used to pay for quite a bit in the end because if they are playing for that long, it used to add up. But we used to have to make the tea and the coffee and get the biscuits and hand them out and making sure that everyone was feed, and no one had to leave. Stay there and put your two Bob in the jar.
Chelsea Hunter: And I can imagine that while this is happening, there's lots of conversations going on. There's lots of community building going on, lots of advice being given would that be correct?
Gary Ella: A lot of fighting. A lot of advice, giving advice on how to play. There was you know, you heard the latest news about what's going on, who was leaving town, who was coming into town, what they were doing work wise. As kids we were not only just watching them play; we were also listening to the stories that they were telling. Finding out where people were going for Christmas, finding out if anyone was catching any fish, finding out how the football was going. So, there was a lot of those type of activities. So, we used to get chased out of the room a lot because we were too noisy, but we'd always sneak back in, to listen to what was going on.
Chelsea Hunter: Listen to the grown-ups. I can imagine you would have heard a lot of things. La Perouse was a popular day trip destination, as you've mentioned, where did most of the tourists come from? Do you know?
Gary Ella: A lot of them were coming from the city or the eastern suburbs. So, I think there wasn’t that many coming from over the North Shore, occasionally there'd be a busload. I imagine they were getting off the Ocean Liners in the city and coming out because the boomerang throwing was happening with Laddie Timbery. The snakeman was there, you know, but the Sims was also singing a few songs around different places, so there was there was a lot for people to come to La Perouse to do. The restaurant at the Paragon, it had a great reputation and it attracted movie stars, TV people coming in, you used to see a lot of those type of celebrities in that particular area.
Chelsea Hunter: Oh really!
Gary Ella: In that particular area, I know they were generally fairly good too because you know, instead of chucking the coppers in the waters they would chuck the silver in the water so that we always looked forward to them coming.
Chelsea Hunter: Yeah, but do you remember any celebrities of the time?
Gary Ella: A lot of you would remember Number 96. If you remember the Number 96 days. They used to be out there on a fairly regular basis.
Chelsea Hunter: The soap opera? Yeah, Number 96. Yeah, I do remember that. It was a rather saucy show wasn't it!
Did you ever get a chance to see the Cann family do the snake show?
Gary Ella: George was a good friend of my father's. One of the things that they used to do, just for the fun of it was to go find snakes at the golf links. Or they used to go down the south coast or they’d be going to trap rats.
So we’d go down a lot and we used to watch and he used to, you know, the Cann brothers used to walk around with the hats and whenever they got to us, they’d say, don't you put your hands in your pockets, and they used to put their hand in and give us a handful of coins.
So they had a good relationship with the family, but they were very popular in the community themselves because they weren't just people that come down and cashed in from the snakes and the shows that they were doing, they were quite active in the in the community
Chelsea Hunter: They were invested, weren’t they?
Gary Ella: Yeah, and they gave a lot of people part time jobs as well. Whether it was catching the rats and buying the rats off them or just teaching them how to run a business.
Chelsea Hunter: Did you ever go looking for snakes with them?
Gary Ella: No, we weren’t allowed.
Chelsea Hunter: Fair enough. Why was that?
Gary Ella: My mother was petrified of snakes. Yeah, she was fine with spiders - spiders weren’t an issue but she was petrified of snakes.
Chelsea Hunter: Yeah, I don't blame her. Where did you go to school?
Gary Ella: Went to school at La Perouse Public. My mother, for a number of years earlier on was working in the canteen. My grandmother was working in the canteen as well. So it had a bit of a family connection for the people actually working there. The school’s now 150 years old. So, there's been quite a few Ella’s and Walkers and Stuart's, all families that went through the school and still going there.
Chelsea Hunter: Right. And how many kids would have been at the school when you were there?
Gary Ella: At least 350. There is about 40 at the moment. We went to Matraville high after that, and they used to have 1000 kids at that stage. At the assemblies there used to be 1000 kids.
Chelsea Hunter: Right. That's, it’s a lot bigger than I was expecting. What were the teachers like?
Gary Ella: The teachers were generally fairly good. I remember that the first headmaster at La Perouse Public was Ian Aird; he was actually playing first grade cricket at Manly. He got us right into the cricket scene. A lot of them were sports people they were right into the sports because that's the type of area that we were in.
But they were always fairly committed it wasn't just that they turn up and do their day at school. They hung around afterwards and just help out with people doing their homework, they’d get the cricket going or the football going. And they’d speak a lot to the parents. You know, I think we were lucky because it was a community and it was like living in a in a country town.
Chelsea Hunter: And so because there are a lot of sport keen teachers did that help to foster your enjoyment of sport and you're playing a sport?
Gary Ella: A fair bit, but also when you're playing outside on the road and stuff with six brothers and countless cousins. They also had a big influence.
My mother used to play Vigoro and my father was very good at darts and golf and he was very good at the hand eye coordination. My mother was like that way a little bit as well with the cricket, but my uncles all played at senior levels at league. My uncle Bruce played, as Lapa (La Perouse) people would know, a lot of first grade for Souths (South Sydney) during that era when they were totally unbeatable. And he was still playing with them when Arthur Beetson first joined them. He had a big influence on the sport side of things. He was always giving us advice on how we should handle things and how we should play the game, and how we catch and run, and he was “grease lightning” so we will always tried to be as fast as what he was.
There was a lot of influences during that period. It just wasn't the school. There's a lot of people outside the school environment that were very influential, including my older brother Rodney who captained New South Wales schools at Cricket and was Vice-Captain of NSW schools in Rugby League.
But he unfortunately had a few injuries at that the wrong time, and he sort of lost a little bit of interest. He got he got tied up at work, he's a bricklayer. While he was working hard, he was coming home and was too tired to do the training as well. He lost a little bit of interest and probably didn’t progress as far as his talent should have taken him.
Chelsea Hunter: I guess if you're seeing a lot of your elders doing really well at sport and you've got a natural ability for yourself as well, it must have seemed like a natural progression then to keep going and following the sporting career.
Gary Ella: During school we were sort of starting to get, I’m going to say we, because obviously Glen and Mark my two brothers, they are only 13 months older than what I am and I finished up at the in the same class as them during primary school. There was some change in the school system. So went pretty much from year one to year 12 in the in the same classes, so when I keep referring to we, that’s why, but the whole family sort of went through that getting recognition about being good at sport but also being good at schoolwork and being reliable in a lot of things.
We started getting picked in you know, representative teams at a pretty young age and the skill stuff started getting fairly well developed at that stage. It was probably when we got to our high school at Matraville that it really took off. Coming into year 11 and year 12. The coach that we had was a rugby coach and this was a rugby school. He was the coach of the Australian schools team at that stage and he always said that if you are still playing League by the time I get to choose the Australian schoolboy tour team, if you are still playing League then you're not going to get picked.
It was quite funny at that stage we were playing League and Rugby, sort of like Saturday and Sunday, but probably two games on Saturday and two games on Sunday as well, just fill in time. We were having so much fun doing it.
But come in year 12, there's an Australian schoolboy team. At this stage, we're playing CHS, which is Combined High Schools for New South Wales and being picked in a number of representative league teams as well. But it was a case of, you know, they are touring Japan, England, Ireland, and Wales and finished up in Holland. We went to France as well, but the game that we were scheduled to play there was called off because of the condition at the oval. It was frozen solid.
But we, had the opportunity, we were in the running after year 11 to be picked in that team. So, we decided that we'd give league a miss for 12 months. And it turned out, that in the Matraville high school team, for the New South Wales ones and twos there were 12 of us picked. And out of that competition where Glen and Mark got picked in the twos, I got picked in the ones, but they won, they beat us in the finals of the competition.
But there was five of us picked, five of our players in the schoolboy team got picked to go on that particular tour. So we're lucky enough for the three of us to get picked so we were in a situation where you have three brothers picked on an Australian side. Very unusual. And then they are Aboriginal, and that it is a rugby tour as well. Because at that stage it was, was a little bit of an upper class game in those days. We did the tour, went through undefeated, the three of us played in most of the test matches. So we built quite a bit of a reputation. So all of a sudden, coming back from the UK thinking that was great to be actually bombarded by media when we got off the plane.
And it just continued along those lines. But it wasn't just us. It was the whole team. Wally Lewis was in the team and he had an injury and he didn't play in any of the test matches. Even when he was fit, Michael O'Connor as well. We had some like five players that went through and captained the country. Michael Hawker was in the team. These guys are all in the Hall of Fames around different places, you know, for the different codes. It was a pretty successful tour.
Chelsea Hunter: Yeah. What did you enjoy most about it?
Gary Ella: Obviously, the football was good. But that wasn't the only thing. The first week that we spent was in Tokyo. That was a lot of fun, for three little black fellas from the mission at La Perouse. That was a bit of an eye opener.
We did have the opportunity to meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace, so that was another eye opener.
Chelsea Hunter: So you met the Queen.
Gary Ella: A couple of times now. That was the first time. It was it was quite funny. So we're in the bus before we left the hotel that we were staying in, we had to be briefed on the protocols. So you know, how to bow and hold her hand, because she… shakes hands and bow and Your Majesty and how it works. So, we get in the bus and a couple of the guys have got a book down the back to see if they could steal something from Buckingham Palace. So, you know who the pre favourites were, so that was good.
So, we met the Queen and for some reason they stood us all together and she shook hands as you do, we did what we had to do and she said, “Hang on a sec, are you guys brothers?” And then she stopped and chatted, for the whole thing. She was due to be there for an hour. We were there for at least three hours.
Chelsea Hunter: We've kind of talked about your famous sporting family.
Gary Ella: Didn't mention my sister Marcia.
Chelsea Hunter: I was gonna say Marcia represented Australia in netball as well. What about your other sisters? Did they get into sports as well?
Gary Ella: All my sisters have been good sports people, whether it's been at netball, basketball, or even bigger. I also mentioned that my mother was involved.
I used to go watch them play basketball on some courts and I used to say shoot to my eldest sister Vivian and she used to be standing on halfway, and she could hit the backboard and all the other sisters that have been standing underneath were all going up fighting for the ball against the opposition.
So they were really good, they won most competitions because the four of them used to play together. Marcia was a bit young at that stage, but they were very talented. They were very good. It’s just that I don’t think that they had the opportunities. Most of them had children quite young. So, they had other distractions.
Chelsea Hunter: Their focus is elsewhere.
Gary Ella: Marcia came through and she was she was picked up fairly early at school. She had a scholarship. She was the first Aboriginal person to have a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport and she actually had it for basketball.
Chelsea Hunter: Right!
Gary Ella: So, she went down and you know, her international career was at netball.
Chelsea Hunter: When did she switch to netball?
Gary Ella: She was playing both at the same time, but really concentrating hard from probably when she left school. A lot of her friends were playing at Heffron Park, so she joined them. She's doing pretty well. She's now on the Australian Netball Board. And she's in their Hall of Fame. You know, she was pretty successful at her sporting career.
Chelsea Hunter: Yeah, she recently brought in the Queen's Baton for the Commonwealth Games last year as well into La Perouse as well. That would have been a really proud moment for the family.
Gary Ella: It was funny, I had the opportunity to run the Olympic torch into La Perouse. That was the day before the games started in 2000. I was working with SOCOG at that stage for the Olympic Games. I was working on Aboriginal programs that were involved with the games and they thought that seeing that we were going into La Perouse, we needed a local Aboriginal person to do it and the minister came up and said, would you like to do it? I was never gonna knock that back.
Chelsea Hunter:No, not a chance. Now you've also done a bit of coaching in the area as well. You were a coach for a little while for Randwick Rugby?
Gary Ella: I’ve had an extensive coaching career as well. I think that I stopped playing on a serious note in 1989 and, it was about 1991/ 92 that I got talked into coaching second grade with a close friend of mine down at Randwick.
We had a successful year, so I got promoted up into first grade, and then spent a bit of time coaching at that level. I coached at a first a grade level with Manly and Parramatta and for five weeks with Penrith because unfortunately their coach had a bit of an issue and couldn't coach them anymore.
I coached Australia under nineteens for four years, I coached with the Waratahs for four years. Coached Australia A for two years, coached Leinster in Ireland for a year. So had a little bit of experience with coaching, so I get a little bit frustrated when I watch TV these days.
Chelsea Hunter: So how would you describe the sporting culture in Randwick now as compared within when you were growing up?
Gary Ella: I still think it's fairly strong. The guys down there are really committed, I think that they're going through a bit of an early building process. I don't think they've got the formulas right on the field and that's sort of a mixture of the young guys and the older guys.
When we were playing, we had a lot of the older guys still in the game, there were the experienced guys who could help younger players through the system and through tight situations in games. So I think that has just been lacking, a little bit of that. But that's coming, the more that these young guys, are playing the more they are getting better at it, and I think that the results will come fairly soon.
But it's still competitive, it's still very sociable, guys are still having a great time. I love going down on Saturday afternoons and having a couple of beers in the stand watching, it's still a very family orientated atmosphere at Coogee Oval. That’s why I think we like it so much.
Chelsea Hunter: Mentorship seems to be a really common theme as well. You were mentioning about how your uncles and all the men in your life are playing sport when you were growing up and now you're the elder, I guess, of the community and you're talking to a lot of these younger rugby players. Would that be an accurate thing to say that mentorship is really important in sport?
Gary Ella: It is and that has happened. I mean, one of the projects I'm involved with outside of working is that I’ve been the president of the Lloyd McDermott Rugby development team, that’s a mouthful. For about the last 18 years, the organization itself it's been going for 25 years. It was named after Lloyd McDermott who was the first Aboriginal Wallaby, the first recognized Aboriginal Wallaby, and he was the first Aboriginal barrister.
So, between us we got together and decided to put together a program. So, we started with a budget of about $5,000, it's now closer to a million dollars that we earn every year.
What we do is we give opportunities to young Aboriginal people, both young boys and girls. So, just today we've got two teams: boys and the girls. going across to New Zealand, to play in the world sevens tournament. So, there's 13 players going. But also, we have put together teams that have played in Argentina, teams are gone the France, South Africa, countless trips to New Zealand, Papa New Guinea, Fiji, Tahiti, even Sri Lanka, some of the more exotic places.
Our first major trip was to Hong Kong and China. So in a sense, I was coaching in those days on a fairly early basis, and mentoring young people not just about being good rugby players but making good lifestyle decisions. These days, I'm sort of mentoring the coaching staff and the management staff to do that. I don't have a lot of direct contact with the players. But the officials, I spend a fair bit of time with. In a sense, it's gone from mentoring players and, and young people to now mentoring coaches and managers.
Chelsea Hunter: It's important at all levels really isn't it?
Gary Ella: Yeah. And you got to give advice, because it is frustrating at times, whether you're playing or whether you're an official, you know, sometimes you’re just out of form, or you just out of whack and someone's just gotta give you a little bit of advice and little bit of encouragement along the way to keep them motivated, and to get results.
Chelsea Hunter: It’s good that you are getting involved in that regard. The Coogee scoreboard was recently named the Ella brothers and Mike Whitney scoreboard. How did that make you feel?
Gary Ella: Oh, that's pretty good thing. We have a really close association with Michael Whitney as well. Because we played all that Junior League together and we played quite a bit against each other on the Cricket pitches.
So to have that honour with Michael, I think, is pretty good actually it was a good feeling I mean ‘cause cricket’s always been very strong in Coogee as well so it was always important to have both sports there. And to be nominated by the rugby club basically. To have it named after us yeah, we’re pretty happy with that I think our parents would have been pretty proud.
Chelsea Hunter: When you look at La Perouse today, what are your hopes for the future of La Perouse?
Gary Ella: I just think that it really depends a lot on what happens with the development, the whole of the Eastern Suburbs, because I think a lot of our Aboriginal people, may start moving out, because it's starting to get very congested.
At the moment, there's not enough housing for the community itself down there, but if we start then having developers coming in on a large scale, then it starts to get a little bit messy. They need more students at the school. So you know if there is the right balance, to increase the numbers, then the school will continue to operate. And I think that's important to the community itself. It's quite a quite strong focal point for the local community out there.
If the, balance between accommodation and the commercial side of things, down at La Perouse is there: if there's enough jobs going, there's enough employment opportunities, and people can make choices that suit them, instead of having to pack up and to move out, I think that it’ll continue to be La Perouse in the fact that families still gather there, they are still very close together.
The fishing, although not as good as it used to be, there are opportunities still to get a feed whenever you want. And I think that it's, it's a calling place. It's calling everybody home. Whether Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, it still calls people to come back every now and again as often as possible.
Chelsea Hunter: Thank you, Gary, so much for sharing your memories with us.
Gary Ella: It's a pleasure.