Ellie the Elephant was craned into her new home at Bowen in 1984.
Ellie the Elephant was craned into her new home at Bowen in 1984.

How many men does it take to carry a half-tonne elephant?

ELLIE the elephant caused a stir when she was accused of being a drug mule.

She landed in Australia more than 30 years ago after being sent from England.

Ellie might be a giant teak statue weighing half a tonne, but she is an important part of Charles Greenhalgh's life. It devastated him when he learnt she was harmed during a customs inspection - she still has scars.

Ellie takes pride of place in Mr Greenhalgh's new home at Carlyle Gardens where he recently moved with his wife of 50 years, Helene.

During the move, it took four men to carry the teak sculpture into the unit.

Mr Greenhalgh bought the elephant in 1964 while backpacking solo in Asia, and was influenced to buy the biggest elephant after a conversation with an American who spoke about big things in America.

"I wanted to out-do him," he said.

Ellie has been lovingly polished and placed in the lounge room where everyone who visits can see her.

"You can't miss her," Mr Greenhalgh laughed.

Charles Greenhalgh with his large teak elephant, Ellie, he purchased in 1964.
Charles Greenhalgh with his large teak elephant, Ellie, he purchased in 1964.

Ellie reminds Mr Greenhalgh of his travels and adventures. He is currently compiling a book for his grandchildren about his antics, and Ellie is just one of the many stories he will write down.

Mr Greenhalgh was born in England and by the time he was 16, he had hitchhiked with friends through Europe and explored several countries.

Travel became an ambition; he finished school and decided not to take up a role in the family company, and he travelled.

He saved 100 pounds and hitchhiked to Australia where he bought a car and a surfboard, and he worked as he travelled around the country.

His next adventure was to hitchhike around Asia with a friend.

His mate eventually decided he'd had enough of living in poverty and left Mr Greenhalgh to travel for four months by himself.

Mr Greenhalgh said it sounds foolish, but he had no idea a war, the Vietnam War, was going on.

"I didn't read the papers or watch the news," he said.

"I was stopped at a border by an American soldier and asked didn't I know there was a war on?"

It was in Chang Mai where Mr Greenhalgh found Ellie.

The half-tonne elephant was freighted to Bangkok where it was shipped back to England and surprised Mr Greenhalgh's father, who was not expecting a giant wooden elephant to arrive.

 

Charles Greenhalgh with Ellie in 1964.
Charles Greenhalgh with Ellie in 1964.

Mr Greenhalgh returned to England later that year to find his elephant in his parents' garage. It remained there for 15 years. During her time in England, Ellie also stayed at the Ivy House, an iconic pub in Tonbridge.

Mr Greenhalgh left the elephant with his parents because he had plans to travel on to Canada.

He called off the adventure when he discovered he had tuberculosis (TB).

It was a fluke he found out as Mr Greenhalgh had been denied access to his flight because he lacked the necessary visa.

He took a medical to apply for the visa, and it was from the chest X-rays the TB diagnosis was made.

He believes he could have died from TB if he had not been stopped from boarding the plane.

He recovered, and instead of going to Canada, he returned to Australia and met his future wife.

It was while the couple was living in Papua New Guinea that Ellie made the voyage to Australia.

"My parents were moving home, so they sent Ellie to Australia," Mr Greenhalgh said.

"I had a friend pick her up in Brisbane."

That friend found customs had hacked the elephant and he set about having the statue restored.

The Greenhalghs returned to Australia four years later and relocated to Bowen, taking Ellie with them.

"She was too big to move into the rented flat, so we had to use a crane to lift her," Mr Greenhalgh said.

During their time in Bowen, the Greenhalghs purchased and sold several houses, relocating up to eight times. And Ellie went with them, every time.

Mr Greenhalgh hopes Ellie's adventures will continue through his grandchildren.

He plans to leave her with them after he passes.

"She's unique and an antique. I don't think there would be another one like her in Australia. The fact she is made of solid teak really is something," he said.

 

■ Do you have an interesting story? Email Lucy.Martin@dailymercury.com.au.



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