If you’re my vintage, you may remember Dean Allen-Craig from Channel 7 news or you may remember him and his family as part of the Hampton Primary School community for many years. Meet Dean…
I was born in the early 60s and grew up in Springvale with my parents and sister Mandy. I lived there til I was 8 – just a really simple, happy childhood. My parents had a house and they worked hard but they didn’t have a lot of money. We then moved to Glen Waverley. We were one of the few houses in the street. I could see across the open paddocks to Blackburn Road or to Waverley Road. They bought one of those new blocks, built a house and I went to a little primary school and stayed in that house until I finished uni.
I went to Haileybury so I had to catch the bus from Springvale Road all the way down to Keysborough. It was trial by fire that bus, especially when you’re only a little kid in year 7. It was so crowded you could hardly get on or sit down. My parents were both teachers. I come from a family of teachers; my parents are both teachers, my sister went into teaching and is still teaching and I ended up doing a Bachelor of Education so I had a strong interest in it as well. I could see that it was a good career, a love of teaching, a love of young people, regular holidays. I think one of the best things about it for our family was that every time we were on holidays so were our parents. And they worked very hard, I reckon teachers earn every dollar they get. My father was in Tech schools and also Phys Ed and my mum was a primary school teacher. For holidays we would go early on down to Rosebud in a little flat and spent sunset evenings playing beach cricket and chasing pelicans and then in teenage years we’d go to places like Wilsons Promontory and camp there for week after week and just that great freedom of being able to roam around, camping near the beach, surfing, making great friends. So I look back on those days and think I had a really blessed upbringing compared to some of the people that you’ve interviewed and some of their harsh upbringings.
I went to Rusden State College as it was known then. I did media studies and geography as my 2 majors. I always had an interest in creative arts – film making, television production but also theatre, singing and music. I thought if I can’t make it in the media, I could teach it and I’d be more than happy doing that. But having finished my course in the early 80s I got a job as a cameraman at Ballarat TV. So I left home and went there for four years. Great experience. If anyone gets a chance to work in the country, I highly recommend it. The media is really hard to break in to but there are opportunities whether it’s newspapers, radio or TV. Probably less now than there was then. I did camera work in the studio, live shows, making TV commercials, live sport coverage, news bulletins, news camera for stories … so I really learnt a massive amount on the job.
Then I started doing on-air presentations as well because I’d done a bit of theatre and I was a singer so I had a bit of stage and voice confidence. They started getting me to do voice overs for commercials, for country TV and then on-camera stuff: introducing Friday night movies and all sorts of events … so it’s funny how one thing can lead to another. I just took whatever opportunity came before me.
Then in 1986 I made the best decision of my life and that was to resign and go around Australia for a year with a mate. My best mate at the time, Michael Nixon, and I bought a van and took off around Australia. Everyone thought I was mad, hang on you’re leaving a prime job in television? I thought “no I’ve got to do this now, I’m unattached, no mortgage, no kids”. And one of the reasons it was the best decision of my life is that on the first night out of Melbourne I met Sandy, who’s now my wife.
She was running a camp at the Banksia Peninsula near Paynesville. A mate of ours was working there and he said “look, there’s heaps of beds in the staff hut, why don’t you come down the first night”. We were only there for a couple of days and then we took off again. I actually looked Sandy up when I got back from going right round Australia. She’d made a huge impression on me and we may have kissed on that first night.
Around Australia was just the best time; travelling around, worked on Hamilton Island for six weeks as a drink waiter, we went right up the north to Cape Tribulation, into the centre, around Western Australia and got back by the end of the year. I looked Sandy up when I got back and we started going out. We were married two years later. It’s quite possible that if we hadn’t met that night we may never have met and my life would have just been a ruin! She’s just amazing and my life has just been blessed at having met her.
When I got back I had to find work again and I got the opportunity to go back to Ballarat and do some TV presenting for a couple of people who were going away. One was Glenn Ridge, he was doing a kids show on Saturday mornings and he was having the summer off travelling. It was every Saturday morning live for four hours. No other producer, just one cameraman in the studio and me, that was it. It was introducing the cartoons, chatting, showing the kids’ paintings and doing all this whacky stuff. Basically you could do whatever you wanted and fill up four hours of television every Saturday morning. A lot of people who grew up in that area see me now and go “don’t I know you?” but they can’t figure out why. All these things are an incredible experience and you look back now and think “why on earth did I agree to that?”. But I got away with it and they were happy and I didn’t die!
And then one of the guys running a 10.30am live TV chat show was also going away and again they came back to me and said “will you host that?” That was every day of the week live, it was called The Morning Show. I had to produce it as well; arrange all the interviews, find who was coming on as the guests and then host it. On the whole it’s not that hard because most people are interesting and they like telling their story. Six weeks, every morning live for half an hour. I would describe it as trial by fire.
After that Rob Gaylard, who was doing the sport reporting for the newsroom resigned to go and join Brian Naylor at Channel 9. So having just finished up on air six weeks there, the news director came to me and said “well do you want to be the sports reporter?” And I’m thinking “I don’t know anything about sport or reporting” but I agreed to give it a go. I did a year of sport reporting at Channel 6 and the beauty of it was, not only did I do the reports but I was the newsreader at night presenting the sport. So when it came to the sport section, you’d suit up, sit at the desk and read the intro to the sport segment. You’d throw to your own story. So I learnt journalism basically on the run and made heaps of mistakes, I just cringe when I think back.
Then Sandy and I got engaged and she was living in Melbourne, still running camps and she’d just taken a job as a lecturer running the outdoor education course. I applied to Channel 10 as a reporter and got a job there. It was amazing because I hadn’t really done much general journalism, mostly sport. I’d started doing a couple of general news stories and so I just put them on a tape and sent them with a letter and said if there’s any positions coming up I’d be very interested. David Johnson who was the news director and news reader at the time rang me and said “Dean will you come for an interview”.
I went down one morning and met them and I was amazed to be in the Ten Eyewitness Newsroom and basically they offered me a job on the spot. My head was spinning. My first three days at Channel 10 I covered the Melbourne Cup and it was lead story around the nation and I was so out of my depth – it’s ridiculous but I got by. I was there for a year and learnt so much and made plenty of mistakes. I loved my time there and made great friends with people who are now well known in the media; Nick McCallum, Brigitte Duclos, Tracey Curro and Eddie McGuire in his early days as a sport reporter. Unfortunately, a year later the network had a huge clean out of staff, big retrenchments and because I was one of the last one, I was first off.
Port Arthur probably stands out for me above all others.
In the end it turned out to be the best thing that happened to me because I went to 3MP radio, I was a newsreader straight away and was there for six months and then I got a job at Channel 7. They were great days for the newsroom. David Johnson came across from Ten and then Jen Keyte came across as well. Loveliest person I’ve ever worked with and what a talent. She is one of the great survivors and a beautiful person. To see people like Tim Watson come on and learn the ropes. He had no idea about the media when he started and he’s absolutely made a career for himself.
I was at Seven for 12 years. The years as a reporter there were astounding to me because I just learnt so much on the job, not only about reporting but about life really because I got to meet people I guess you never would meet in normal daily life. Everyone from prisoners, prime ministers and sports stars – you get to sit down and interview and you have to pinch yourself at the time. And you make the most of it, not only for your news story but for yourself and you have a bit of a chat before and after and think I’ve actually met them. But also a lot of reporting is quite traumatic. I was a police reporter for over six years and I really did enjoy it and not in a macabre way but the challenge of it. To go out to some of the stories, it’s really full on. To be called out to some really bad car accidents or train crashes, natural disasters, floods, fires and then not only to go to the event but then have to follow up with the families and maybe interview bereaved loved ones. You’re in their house, this is the first time you’ve met them on what is probably the worst day of their life and you’ve got to not only talk your way in there but then talk about the very event that has just shattered them, it’s really full on.
Port Arthur probably stands out for me above all others. I was called down there the afternoon it started. I was on a day off and the newsroom said “there’s something happening down in Port Arthur, you’d better fly down there, there’s a few people that have been shot”. They didn’t know what had happened at that stage. Being the police reporter they flew me down with a crew in a light plane from Moorabbin and then I thought it’d be an overnighter but I was there for well over a week. Of course as we went down the reports just kept coming in – there’s more and more people being found, more victims, more bodies, women, children and it just got worse and worse. We basically worked right through the night in Hobart at police headquarters and the hospital as people were coming in and then drove down to Port Arthur and at that stage the gunman was still at large. It was 4am the next morning and they were still hunting him. He’d holed up in that guest house and then set it on fire and came out on fire and they arrested him. We were then taken around all the sites and had to report on it day after day. You couldn’t talk to any locals who hadn’t been directly affected somehow.
There’s always that feeling that you’re intruding but you’ve got to treat the job seriously and know that this is a news event. Someone’s going to report on it, I’d rather it be me than someone that perhaps may not have as much compassion. I tried to show people as much compassion as possible when they were dealing with probably the worst event in their life. It’s a strange job. You don’t wish bad things to happen to people but if there’s a really big story like Port Arthur or the biggest story around on that day, as a reporter you want to do the big stories.
Another story that really come to mind is the Mr Cruel, Karmein Chan’s abduction and eventually murder and her body being found a year later. One of the interviews I’ll remember most is interviewing her mother. The media chose one reporter from the papers and one from TV to do that interview because the police said they can’t handle a full press conference. They nominated me which in one sense was an honour but a rather onerous one because what do you ask someone like that? Her daughter’s now missing for over a week, clearly abducted and we had to interview her. You might remember she just became hysterical during the interview but we finally calmed her down and got some really got responses from her and husband at the time.
The other one that really dominated our thoughts and thinking and my life for a while was the Frankston serial killer because that was going on and on and these girls were disappearing and then being found and the community was absolutely panicked. You can’t go to things like that and not be affected. That went on year after year and eventually I thought I really probably should get out of this game. I’d had enough. It’s a very demanding job, you’re often there long hours and particularly as a police reporter, if there’s some event like a siege overnight you can’t just leave and say I’ll finish this job tomorrow. Whilst it’s good to be covering the big stories, it’s exhausting. I had a young family by then and quite often I’d work weekends and nights and it got to the point where I felt I should probably try something different.
After leaving Seven News I started working as a presenter on a TV travel show called What’s Up Downunder with Paul Cronin and Frankie J Holden. It’s a show based around Caravanning and camping and it was hard work but good fun. I then went into a private business, a video production company. I’ve been there for fifteen years. We do communication videos for business and government.
I missed news at first, it really gets in your blood. It’s like an adrenaline. You can’t stop listening to the news all the time and you feel like you have to know what’s going on all the time.
I’ve been very blessed with a beautiful family: two boys and a girl. Campbell is the oldest, Joshua’s the middle and Samantha the youngest. And they’re now 20, 22 and 24 so we’re just out of the school phase. Campbell is a carpenter, Josh is a musician – sax teacher and composer and Samantha is still studying a creative arts degree in music and media. When our 3 kids were all still at Hampton Primary we took them out for a term and travelled around Australia with an off-road Caravan. It was the best family holiday ever and really helped cement us as a close family. What they gained from their time on the road and seeing the outback could never be learned in a classroom in one term.
The other side of my life has been music. I’ve had rock bands since I was in high school and I’m still in one now called Picasso Special which is named after our favourite pizza we order when we rehearse! The band used to be called the ‘Dead Set Chick Magnets’ – best band name ever I thought but Sandy didn’t really like it! The band’s gigs are almost all word of mouth. We’d love to play more but we’re all also very busy. We’re just playing songs that people love to hear and people love to dance to.
Sandy and I first lived in Mordialloc down near Woodlands Golf Course but the planes from Moorabbin Airport drove us mad. We were both working close to the city and we really wanted to live up this way so we looked around for about a year for a house in Hampton. We loved this area; we looked up and down from Beaumaris, Mentone, through here and it just had a lovely feel to it. This was 22 years ago. We had to stretch financially to get in. The real estate agents, who we came to really despise at the time, would always underquote. We kept a record of it and wrote an article for The Age and they published it about how real estate agents underquote to get you interested.
In the end, we realised what we would have to pay to get in here and we just through we’ll stretch ourselves, see if we can borrow a bit more and sure enough it went for exactly what we thought it would. If we’d had enough we of course would have bought half a dozen of them! But one of them was a stretch in those days. We renovated this house, it was really small and needed a lot of work when we bought it. We lived in it for quite a few years pretty much as it was, had the kids then did a major renovation to extend it and we’re thrilled with it.
Our kids all went to Hampton Primary and we love the Hampton community. We’re horrified at the idea of the development in Hampton Street and we’ve just heard about the proposal for a 7 or 8 story building wedged between the existing new development and what would be built at the village and it’s just an outrage because they’re completely inappropriate. We’re just urging everyone who lives here to fight it and oppose it. It’ll change the feel of that street forever.
I spent many years being part of and leading Church Youth Groups at the Uniting Church and it was like an extended family. I became Christian and made some of my best friends there and we are still close today. We were passionate about social justice and joined groups like Amnesty International and South Africa support group fighting against Apartheid. I still hate seeing prejudice and injustice.
I really love surfing on my long board with my wife and kids and playing in the band. It’s too young to retire sadly. I’m just inspired by people like Clint Eastwood who at 84 directed Jersey Boys. It’s obviously a passion for him. He’s not saying “now I’m retired, I’ll never do it again”. You don’t have to work full time necessarily but I just think if you love something there’s no reason why you have to say “well that’s it I’m never working again” I’d love to ease back and maybe not work as many days in the coming years; surf more, play more music and travel.
Dean’s band Picasso Special is available for hire! You can find their website here.