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Eoin Cameron: King of the AM Airwaves

Sunday, 29 February  2004 

Sunday Times Article
With thanks to the Sunday Times and STM for the use of this article.

The following article appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine (STM) on February 29, 2004.

The man who would be king of breakfast radio is on a ratings high and turning down deals to lure him back to the station that once sacked him for being too old. GAIL WILLIAMS reports

Arise King Cameron

It's painfully early and Eoin Cameron is being painfully chirpy as Perth wakes to his baritone charm. "Sleep in did we?" hortles Cameron when he answers the door of his ABC radio studio just after 5am. His hulking two-metre frame clad in crumpled checked shirt fills the doorway as he beckons towards his kingdom. Kingdom? Yes, we can call it kingdom where between 5am and 7.45am Cameron reigns supreme in his threadbare studio, littered with newspapers, staff reminders and coffee cups, with a view over the carpark.

"You'd think the announcers would have got the river view", he says pushing buttons and telling listeners that a bludgie is a partner who doesn't work but is kept as a pet and a flatypus is a cat which has been run over by a vehicle.

Cameron - the bloke who got caught as the meat in the sandwich of Perth radio's biggest mistake - can now arguably lay claim to the Breakfast King crown. He's Australia's highest-rating ABC breakfast announcer and in Perth he's second only to 94.5FM's Botica's Bunch. No wonder that when he doles out early morning news, current affairs, jokes, weather, music and trivia he sounds like the cat who got the cream.

In the flesh, he is taller, greyer and younger than you imagine and his resonant
voice is laced with the elliptical vowels of ABC training. It's an all-round commanding presence from the once hyperactive little boy in a family of 10 children who got his willy dipped in turpentine for painting it white and decorating it with a dandelion. It's a long way from the interminably disruptive schoolboy who flunked Year 8 not long after he tried to kill his father with electrified fence wire. Back then his teachers wrote just one recurring comment on his report: "Has the ability, lacks application."

If only the Josephite Nuns could see him now applying himself like mad to the task of easing a large portion of Perth into the day ahead. Grown up now - or is he? - there's the respectable Duncraig lifestyle, the friendship with John Howard and the middle aged responsibility. But there's still an underlying element of the larrikin pushing the system, which doesn't take long to surface.

Local radio manager Steve Altham couldn't believe his luck when Cameron was brutally dumped by 6PR in December 2000, for being too old. Altham, had enormous faith in Cameron's experience and professionalism and snapped him up for the breakfast slot.

Now, at 53, the "old geezer" is enjoying the last laugh as he watches his ABC ratings go through the roof. According to this week's survey, he now has double the listening audience of the Howard Sattler and Louise Rowe duo struggling with the breakfast seat at his old station.

Breakfast with Eoin - or "Yon" as ABC broadcaster and Sunday Time's columnist Liam Bartlett calls him - is more tart than sweet and syrupy. There are lashings of goss and double servings of sarcasm; jokes about rabbis circumcising bears go unchecked, no one takes offence at the revelation that his wife, Wendy, packs his suitcase; and he chats with Mary from Two Rocks, Dick Smith about adventuring and dissects the latest events on "The Bold and The Beautiful". In the hour it takes him to scroll through and reply to his emails he doesn't get a bad one.

If he is overly familiar, he can afford to be. After all, he shares intimate moments with around 145,000 listeners who cannot imagine eating their cornflakes, shaving, showering or driving to work without him. It's a reciprocal relationship. Cameron has shared his many highs and lows
since he spun his first disc - The Bee Gees' "First of May" - at Albany radio
station 6VA in 1969.

Since then his intrigued audience has witnessed the Cameron career rise and ebb on the turbulent ocean of Australian media. In between there have been radio stints at 6IX, the ABC, 3DB, 94.5 and 6PR, TV programs - "The Grant and Cameron show" and "The Entertainers" on Channel 9 - and a six year stretch from 1993 to 1998 in Federal parliament as the Liberal member for Stirling.

The two biggest lows were losing his marginal seat to Labor's Jann McFarlane and then, a couple of years later, the 6PR sacking. They were just two more tests of his resilience - and that of the guardian angels his Catholic mum said would always guide him. Cameron is nothing, if not a survivor.

His childhood, spent in country South Australia - in Mount Gambier at a timber mill and later on a dairy farm in Mount McIntyre - was a series of boys' own adventures cheating death like it was a natural part of growing up.

There were no shrinking violets in our family. We all had a point of view

Before he'd even reached his teenage years he'd survived snakebite, being passenger in a car that landed in a ditch, slicing off the ball of his foot on a sawbench, leaping out of a timber stack using his grandmother's bedspread as a parachute, countless rollovers of his Dad's car in the paddock and - perhaps more dangerous than all - the routine beltings from his father for
the numerous pranks.

After that, dealing with Liberal numbers cruncher Noel Crichton-Brown and former 6PR general manager Shane Healey (their relationship was described by
6PR staff as "mutual hatred") were child's play.

"They say revenge is sweet", said Cameron. "It certainly is."

It became even sweeter when he was offered his old slot back at 6PR with the enticement of a salary triple what he is getting at the ABC. He declined. The decision didn't surprise the old staff at 6PR who had witnessed the raised voices and slamming of doors when Cameron and Healey were locking horns.

Said one insider: "Healey tried to turn Eoin into a shock jock and he's just not like that. Eoin used to leave the building straight after his show so he didn't have to come into contact with him. Because of that Healey developed a personal dislike of Eoin."

Cameron said he agonised over the generous offer which would have set him up for life.

"It was a matter of loyalty in the end, but - even with all that money - it was a matter of knowing that I'd be going to work every day to be miserable," he says. "Ideally I'd like to win Lotto then I could spend more time writing. On that amount of money I could have retired in a few years and just concentrated on my next book."

Yes, he's an author as well, his love of the written word being fuelled as a child by reading Biggles and Famous Five and Banjo Paterson.

His first book "Rolling into the World, Memoirs of a Ratbag Child", is in it's third print run and he has a June deadline to complete his second - a light-hearted look at the 60s - for Fremantle Arts Centre Press.

"Rolling into the World", which he originally penned for his nine brothers and sisters, is sort of "On Our Selection" meets "Angela's Ashes". It's written in
Cameron's distinctive self-deprecating voice.

"After my youngest brother read it he told me it had to be published," said Cameron. "I dropped it off at Fremantle Arts Centre Press and six months later they sent me a letter saying they'd accepted it."

The memoirs have a darker note when he touches on his treatment - including sexual abuse - by the Brothers at the Marist Brothers College in Mt Gambier where he attended boarding school until he was 14.

When Marist Brothers heard he was publishing a book, a couple of them went to lunch with him and urged him to be kind. "I didn't want to dwell on the abuse," he said. "It's not that sort of book. Some of the Brothers were marvellous people, but most of them were bastards in black."

He hated school anyway - the canings, humiliation, the sports days - but it was his treatment at the hands of Brother Bertinus which form his worst memories. The hook-nosed Principal would call him into his office just before lights out to give him a physical examination to see if he was "developing properly".

The terrified young Cameron didn't know what to do or who to tell, so he kept the incidents to himself for years.

"How does a 12-year-old boy broach the subject?" he said. "My parents didn't know that was why I hated school so much. If I had a free weekend and performed when it was time to go back they would just think it was the usual histrionics. For me secondary school was horrible the whole time."

All of this belies the jocular public persona he presents - the outspoken larrikin with an acerbic wit, strong views, a black sense of humour, a love of food and old American cars, and a loathing of sport. But - most of all - his eternal devotion to his wife, Wendy (the War Office or She Who Must Be Obeyed), three children and four grandchildren.

Relaxing at his Duncraig home after the show and his daily constitutional walk, he's once again king of the castle. It's only 9am but in Cameron time it's late afteroon. He's usually up at 2.45am which means the latest he ever gets to bed is 7.30pm.

"I usually watch the ABC news and fall asleep," he says. "That's how I became a fan of The Bold and The Beautiful. It's about the only thing that suits my time frame. Everybody knows I'm hopeless over dinner, so if we entertain, it's usually lunch."

Growing up in the large family has given him a strong sense of identity, a very strong commitment to his own family and, perhaps the most valuable asset, the ability to make himself heard.

"I can always listen to two conversations at once," he said. "It was a very noisy household. Mealtimes were the worst. And we'd always have someone else staying with us. We'd travel around in a red and white Volkswagen Microbus. We were also all very vocal. There are no shrinking violets in our family, we all had a point of view."

All of which obviously gave him the ideal prerequisites for parliamentary debate. He entered politics hoping to tackle environmental, republican and
GST issues.

But then he discovered the machinations of the Liberal Party. He became known as one of the "Trotskyites" aligning himself with the South Australian contingent because of his views on social and environmental issues.

"John Hewson had written a document called Fightback, which I read - the whole 700 pages of it. I thought 'this guy has got a clue'. The only way he's going to get to be Prime Minister was if the Liberal Party could win some marginal Labor held seats. I had always lived in and around Stirling so I went along to a pre-selection meeting and made a speech and got selected,as a candidate."

"Unfortunately I got voted in and John Hewson got voted out, so I went straight into Opposition,"

Politics was a natural progression - it’s in the family. "My great grandfather, Malcolm Duren, was a Federal member and my cousin, Martin Cameron, served for State and Federal politics", he says.

Unwittingly, however, his success immediately got him on the wrong side of the machiavellian power broker, Noel Crichton-Browne, who was backing Michael Huston as the preferred candidate. During the election campaign and his time in Parliament Cameron said he received little support from from the Liberal Party, mainly because of the Crichton-Browne factor.

I couldn't see how one bloke wielded all this power," he said. "He made it very unpleasant for me just because I wouldn't toe his line and wasn't seen as one of his lackeys. He would work over the branches pretty well. His stooges would turn up at the Party meetings and block the vote. I just used to try and ignore him. I think I have only ever spoken to him twice. Once I said 'hello' to him at the airport and once I was in John Howard's office when Howard was telling me how much NCB liked the Liberal Party. I looked at him and said 'Noel, if you love the Liberal Party as much as you say you do, you should resign immediately'."

Cameron served two terms, the second one in power under John Howard, a time he describes as a worthwhile experience. He is still good friends with John Howard and produces a photograph of them together at a dinner in Perth.

"Howard phoned me the day after I lost my seat and began discussing environmental issues. I could tell he was thinking of offering me something and I had to tell him I had lost my seat. Yes, things would have been very different."


Last Updated: 4/03/2004 10:24:00 AM AWST


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