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Photo courtesy of Fryer Library
from the Theatre Magazine (October 1916)

Ella Airlie Ella Airlie i(A69468 works by) (birth name: Ella Ogilvie) (a.k.a. Ella Palzier Campbell)
Gender: Female
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Librettist, dramatist, songwriter, and variety performer.

Best remembered for originating the Fullers' most successful pantomime, The Bunyip (1916), Ella Airlie was raised in Ballarat, Victoria. She began her professional stage career around late 1909/early 1910, initially performing songs and humorous dialogue at various Melbourne-based variety shows. In 1910, she accepted an offer from the Taits to be an accompanist for visiting singers. She also continued to present her own routines and appeared in such shows as the Tait's Follies. After an engagement on the Fullers' Australian and New Zealand circuits, Airlie travelled to America, where she toured briefly before returning to Australia to once again take up a Fullers contract.

Although largely recognised as a songwriter - her compositions had been included in several pantomimes (notably J. C. Williamson's Mother Goose and William Anderson's Babes in the Wood, 1909) - Airlie's ambition was to become a playwright. In 1916, she submitted to Sir Benjamin Fuller a script that she had been working on since 1908. Titled 'The Bunyip,' it had been conceived first as a musical play and later as a revusical. Although Fuller initially rejected the work due it having no romantic angle, he did see its potential as a pantomime, particularly as it contained strong Australian themes and content. He subsequently handed the project to Nat Phillips, then one of his company's senior director/managers. Coming off a very successful debut season at the Princess Theatre, with his newly formed Stiffy and Mo company, Phillips added some new material (including roles for himself and Roy 'Mo' Rene) and put the show into production in late November. It premiered at the Grand Opera House (Sydney) a few days before Christmas and went on to tour Australia and New Zealand frequently up until at least 1924. Sinbad the Sailor, another of Airlie's pantomimes, premiered under the Fullers' direction in 1918. Production details for a drama called 'The Wishing Cap' (ca. 1918) are yet to be located.

Most Referenced Works


  • ADDITIONAL SONGS ATTRIBUTED TO ELLA AIRLIE: Publication details unknown or not established.

    • 'Go Away Mr Crocodile' (ca. 1915) [cited Theatre Magazine March 1915, p.35]

    • 'If Everyone Thought as Mother' (ca. 1915) [cited Theatre Magazine March 1915, p.35]

    • 'We're Not Downhearted Yet' (ca. 1915) [cited Theatre Magazine March 1915, p.35]

  • ENGAGEMENTS CHRONOLOGY : An asterix (*) beside a date indicates that it is either approximate or has yet to be established).

    1910 : 29 January - * Collingwood Town Hall, Melbourne (first appearance).

      • NB: Airlie was engaged by the Taits in Melbourne for much of 1910 and 1911.

    1915 : 28 August - * Empire Theatre, Brisbane / Queensland regional tour; ca. September-October (see Olympia Theatre, Charters Towers; ca. 2 October).

    1916 : ca. February*; Melrose Theatre, Perth / 22-31 December; Grand Opera House, Sydney [The Bunyip].

    1917 : 1 January - 2 March; Grand Opera House, Sydney [The Bunyip].

    1919 : ca. September *; Bijou Theatre, Melbourne / ca. October *; Adelaide / 29 November - *; Empire Theatre, Brisbane.


    The following list comprises bibliographic details of published and unpublished photographs, caricatures, and drawings of Ella Airlie.

      • National Library of Australia: Music collection. Portrait photographs of Airlie are included on the covers of a number of published scores from The Bunyip pantomime. Some scores can be accessed online.

      • State Library of Queensland: Holds several sheet music publications from The Bunyip, which also include a portrait of Airlie.

      • Theatre Magazine: October 1916, p.19.

      • West, John. Theatre in Australia, p.129. [From the cover of 'The Bunyip' sheet music]

      • Williams, Margaret. Australia on the Popular Stage, p.84. [From an advertisement for The Bunyip.]

  • This entry has been sourced from research undertaken by Dr Clay Djubal into Australian-written popular music theatre (ca. 1850-1930). See also the Australian Variety Theatre Archive

Last amended 9 May 2014 08:51:54
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