Life has been his great teacher

FULL OF LIFE: Lewis Ellem has an exceptional life story.
FULL OF LIFE: Lewis Ellem has an exceptional life story. Trevor Veale

WHILE Lewis Ellem's story certainly proves he has lived almost a century, his cheeky demeanour and spritely independence tell otherwise.

The First Fleet descendant has lived an incredible life and continues to do so on the Northern Beaches of the Coffs Coast.

Born at Kungala on December 31, 1915, Mr Ellem had a rough start to life - contracting meningitis at four and then diphtheria at seven - but proved his fighting spirit by beating the almost always fatal diseases.

Mr Ellem didn't start school until he was 10, when his father built a school and gathered enough students to attract a teacher. He passed his entrance exam to high school in just three-and-a-half years and went on to be Grafton High School's captain, dux and Citizen of the Year in 1934.

He moved on to Armidale Teacher's College in 1934, the start of a long and illustrious teaching career. It included teaching stints at Urbenville, Rappville, a small one-teacher school at Kennackle Creek, Gladesville Public School and headmastership at an Aboriginal school in Bellbrook on the Nulla Creek, where he was also manager of the Aboriginal Station from 1952-1953.

When at Gladesville Public School, Mr Ellem completed his BA degree from Sydney University. Following that he was principal of a large school at Captain's Flat, Murrumburrah Intermediate High School and finally Grafton Primary School where he saw out the rest of his teaching days, retiring in 1975.

"I've enjoyed my life of teaching; I've met some wonderful people, magnificent teachers and it's been great to follow the successes of my students," Mr Ellem said.

It wasn't just school where he excelled. In fact his entire family was exceptional at cricket, so big they had their own team, and their successes have been honoured with Ellem Oval in Grafton being named after them.

Although he had visited Woolgoolga during his years, the family decided to make it their home in 1960 and settled with his late wife Rita and two sons Gregory and Warren.

Since retiring Mr Ellem has written three books and an extensive history on the Ellem family.

So what's his secret to such a fulfilling life?

"I blame my wife being an incredibly good cook, I've always been active in sport and my daughter-in-law tells me I'm very competitive."

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