CEN­TRE COURT, BUT IN VOICE ONLY

Craig Wil­lis may be the ‘ voice of sport’ in Aus­tralia mix­ing with lu­mi­nar­ies from across the world, but he is happy to call the high coun­try home.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - words Pam Zierk- Ma­honey pho­tos Pam Zierk- Ma­honey, Craig Wil­lis col­lec­tion

Craig Wil­lis, the ‘ voice of sport’ in Aus­tralia, talks about his ca­reer, and liv­ing in the high countr y.

MIL­LIONS of peo­ple across Aus­tralia and in fact the world know ‘the voice of Aus­tralian sport’, but few would know that he is happy to call the high coun­try home.

Craig Wil­lis’s dul­cet tones are so well known around the coun­try that when it comes to hear­ing him across the tele­vi­sion screens you in­stantly recog­nise it. But what does ‘the voice’ do when not an­nounc­ing? Craig en­joys the seren­ity, the views and the beauty of the high coun­try.

"When I was at school a friend's fam­ily had a farm in north­ern NSW near Mudgee and I used to go up there when I was aged 12 to 13 - I learnt to drive and learnt to ride when I was there and I al­ways imag­ined I would love to have a lit­tle place in the coun­try,” he re­called.

"I fell in love with this part of the coun­try when I came up for the first time years ago with the 4x4 Mag­a­zine.

“There was a group of us who tested out six 4x4 ve­hi­cles... Mur­ray Ni­chol who used to do morn­ings on 3AW, Rob Stitch, Jane Kennedy, Leigh Si­mon from Triple M, and Kim Staughton.

“We drove up to Mt Buller and over the back, camped at Bluff Hut and I thought wow - what a place – I just loved the area, the scenery and ev­ery­thing else so that is one of the rea­sons why we came to look up here.”

Not long after that Craig and his wife Mon­ica de­cided they needed a quiet place in the coun­try some­where – not too far out of Mel­bourne which they still use as a base be­fore trav­el­ling.

"You get to an age when you say 'If I don’t do some­thing now I’m not go­ing to do it’, so that was when we thought we would find 40-50 acres and started look­ing,” Craig said.

“We searched the in­ter­net and found what I thought was the ideal lit­tle cot­tage.

“We also wanted a few acres so we could run some steers... noth­ing big, noth­ing fancy, just enough for us to re­lax and call our home away from the city home.”

Craig re­lated that when they pulled up to the front gate of what is now their Mer­ri­jig cot­tage he im­me­di­ately said “this is it.”

“Mon­ica said to me ‘ you haven’t been in­side yet, how do you know’, and I just stood there and said I know this is it,” he said.

Some ren­o­va­tions, in­clud­ing ac­com­mo­dat­ing a record­ing stu­dio within an ex­ist­ing ma­chin­ery shed, has seen Craig and Mon­ica very com­fort­able and happy.

An ad­di­tion to the fam­ily since ar­riv­ing in the high coun­try has also been Craig's de­voted Kelpie, Nell.

“After ar­riv­ing and set­tling in I was talk­ing to Jimmy Ma­honey one day and said ‘I need a dog – a Heeler or Kelpie’,” Craig re­called.

“Jimmy said 'fol­low me' and took me to his place where – at the time his wife Lyn was still alive – she hauled out from un­der­neath the shear­ing shed this pup. “That’ll do me,” I said. “This poor trem­bling an­i­mal came home with me and it looked ter­ri­fied, she just shook for hours.

“I was wor­ried she would try to run back to her old home over the hill – but she didn’t and I sat with her on the porch and talked to her and said ‘Stay with me – you will never be beaten, you will be well fed, and we can be pals’.

“She has never left my side, never looked to run away and goes ev­ery­where with me in my ute (in the front seat, not the back like nor­mal farm dogs) – she is so de­voted.”

Although Craig and Mon­ica have set­tled into life in the high coun­try much of Craig’s time is still spent trav­el­ling and a few days at their Mel­bourne home.

>> “I still at­tend most of the big sporting events plus I am at­tached to four of the AFL clubs and so work for them, mostly on week­ends,” he said.

“On top of this I do a lot of voiceovers for film and com­mer­cial com­pa­nies when they put to­gether ad­ver­tis­ing, and I am on the road and in the air quite a bit.

"But with a record­ing stu­dio at home, I can now work on voiceovers a lot - emails and the NBN have helped with this as I can do a turn­around on record­ings usu­ally within a day.

"Much of my work is do­ing voiceovers - I work for my­self so it is easy to plan and work when I need to."

Life in the coun­try is so re­laxed for Craig, he dresses like a farmer, watches the weather pat­terns, grum­bles about the soggy ground where you can get bogged, rel­ishes watch­ing his dozen or so steers grow­ing, and en­joys the chang­ing sea­sons.

"I do get tired of catch­ing planes, and trains and timeta­bles but it is what I do, I have to travel to make a liv­ing,” he said.

"The part I dis­like most is the pack­ing - con­stantly pack­ing bags, but once I am on the road or in the air I’m fine."

Many of us would be envious of Craig’s ca­reer.

He meets with the ‘creme de la creme’ of sport, trav­els not only across Aus­tralia but the world - wher­ever his job will take him.

He has at­tended four Olympic Games and when North East Liv­ing caught up for this in­ter­view he was pre­par­ing to catch a flight to Brazil for the Rio Games.

"I have been lucky to have had two trips to Africa with foot­ball, four trips to Ire­land with AFL, the Olympics - Athens, Syd­ney, Bei­jing, At­lanta and now Rio," he said.

"At­tend­ing all these big events is not as glam­orous as peo­ple may think.

“You get your ac­cred­i­ta­tion to at­tend the event (mostly in­ter­na­tional ten­nis) that you are re­quired at and that is your limit - you don’t get to see other venues or events un­less you buy your tick­ets to them - you are usu­ally stuck in one or two venues.

“But there are some perks, like re­cently I flew to Paris (France) at the in­vi­ta­tion of the In­ter­na­tional Ten­nis Fed­er­a­tion at Roland Gar­ros for the Cham­pi­ons Din­ner... this was for the pre­vi­ous year so there was Djokovic, Wil­liams, Martina Hingis and Sa­nia Mirza, just for one night.

“That was held in the most beau­ti­ful room, and it was only after I walked out through a side door fol­low­ing re­hearsals that I re­alised it was next door to the head­quar­ters of Louis Vuit­ton.

"I took my wife and her sis­ter and brother-in-law with me this trip and we spent a week or two trav­el­ling and hol­i­day­ing through France, down to An­tibes and Monaco and back to Paris be­fore fly­ing home again.

"Chances are I'll go back to Paris next year for the din­ner - to com­pere the cham­pi­ons again."

Craig has brushed shoul­ders with some of the most elite ath­letes from Aus­tralia and around the world.

The likes of Roger Fed­erer, John Mcen­roe, the Wil­liams sis­ters - Ser­ena and Venus - and AFL foot­ballers such as Brown­low medal­lists James Hird and Michael Voss.

One of the few times he can be seen, and heard, is at the AFL grand fi­nals, An­zac Day, Brown­low Medal, Hall of Fame, and at the Gee­long, Hawthorn, North Mel­bourne, Carl­ton foot­ball clubs.

The rest of the time he spends be­hind doors, wait­ing for his next part.

"When at the Aus­tralian Open I usu­ally work from 8am to around 6pm each day - just wait­ing till I am needed to an­nounce the next match, it is not all chat­ting and so­cial­is­ing," he re­as­sured. Asked how he got into this ca­reer his an­swer was sim­ple. “I al­ways wanted to do ra­dio and that’s where I started,” he said.

Craig was brought up in Syd­ney and at­tended Kings School - it was a good school - very strict - at the time there were about 600 board­ers and 200 day boys. “I was one of the day boys," he said. “Both my mother and father had mil­i­tary back­grounds.

“My mother was one of the few women who was in the army and went to New Guinea - only 320 women who went there dur­ing the war - and my father was a cap­tain in the army.

“After the war my father then worked for Par­ra­matta Coun­cil for more than 50 years, fin­ish­ing as the equiv­a­lent of a CEO.

“My first job was at Ge­orge Pa­ter­son ad­ver­tis­ing as a dis­patch boy.

“I then went to 2UW as of­fice boy, and John Laws was the star of that sta­tion and un­be­known to me he sent a tape off to Lith­gow who of­fered me my first job in ra­dio at 19.”

Craig moved to Can­berra, then spent sev­eral years on Christ­mas Is­land.

"At the time it was still a phos­phate mine and we had to re­lay in Chi­nese and Malay as well," he said.

"My boss there was Bernard Lynch who later worked at ABC Vic­to­ria - it was in­ter­est­ing.

"From there I went back to Can­berra and then to Mel­bourne to work at 3UZ.

"Tony Bar­ber was do­ing the break­fast show and Bert New­ton was do­ing the morn­ing show and I worked with Martha Gard­ner, Father Ger­ald Dowl­ing - who later mar­ried Mon­ica and I.

"Then the op­por­tu­nity came to work at 3AW with Der­ryn Hinch, who is a very nice fella.” Craig said mak­ing the tran­si­tion from ra­dio into an­nounc­ing was quite easy, and over the past 30 years he has built up a rep­u­ta­tion as be­ing one of the coun­try’s best ‘Master of Cer­e­monies’.

And even though he at times says he does tire of the travel, he is also adamant he doesn't plan on giv­ing it up any time in the near fu­ture.

In the mean­time he and Mon­ica con­tinue to en­joy the time they have in their coun­try cot­tage.

Whether it be tak­ing cen­tre court to an­nounce the in­ter­na­tional num­ber one ten­nis player to a tele­vi­sion au­di­ence of mil­lions, or ex­tolling the virtues of the lo­cal car dealer on re­gional ra­dio, Craig is the con­sum­mate pro­fes­sional, but a coun­try boy at heart.

“I have been lucky to have had two trips to Africa with foot­ball, four trips to Ire­land with AFL, the Olympics - Athens, Syd­ney, Bei­jing, At­lanta and now Rio.” - Craig Wil­lis

Pho­tos:cour­tesy©aflphoto,ten­nisaus­tralia

MAN IN THE MID­DLE/ Craig Wil­lis as MC at the AFL grand fi­nal, watch­ing on as Hawthorn coach Alas­tair Clark­son is con­grat­u­lated on their pre­mier­ship win by Robert Walls; and ( above) cen­tre court at the Aus­tralian Open, con­grat­u­lat­ing 2016 men’s dou­bles win­ners Bruno Soares and Jamie Mur­ray.

HOME IN THE HILLS / Craig Wil­lis with his beloved Kelpie, Nell, at their high coun­try home.

IN THE PIC­TURE / Craig Wil­lis re­laxes at home; con­grat­u­lat­ing joint 1996 Brown­low Medal­lists Michael Voss and James Hird ( far left); and with ten­nis great and com­men­ta­tor John Mcen­roe ( be­low).

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