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.
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
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).