Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Vale DJ Cameron

Like most sports journalists of the era I benefited from being in DJ Cameron's company. From the vast array of stories of characters and news situations he had been in to the background information provided over a meal, preceded generally by a liberal sampling of the 'wine of the region', and then consummated with the real deal over a meal. That was of course after all the 'tap, tap, ding' had been done and dusted. For one whose start in the media was in the far south, the stories he could tell about people who were out of the orbit of southerners in the games we covered, DJ was generally able to provide a kernel or two of suitably relevant information.

Our paths first crossed when he ventured south with Auckland's regional rugby teams as occurred regularly in the early days of the national provincial championship. He generally arrived with Auckland but could also appear at times with Bay of Plenty or Counties. If there was a training session in Bluff, and that always happened when international teams were in town, Don only had to be asked once if he wanted a lift to the greatest opportunity to indulge in oyster eating that was very likely. Then when visits were reciprocated, a ride to training was always accompanied by a subtle interrogation about what might be expected from these rugby boys from the south. Not that it ever really mattered because they have only ever managed to win once in Auckland and that was well before my time.

But it was when we were both covering cricket that we most came into contact with each other, me for the Evening Post, and joined generally by Peter Bidwell from The Dominion and either John Coffey or Geoff Longley from The Press and NZPA operators Dave Leggat, Sri Krishnamurthi and other sundry characters. They were good days at a time when New Zealand was generally performing well in the latter days of the Hadlee era and with Martin Crowe still in the ascendant. The staging of the World Cup in New Zealand and Australia in 1992 was an especially memorable time with New Zealand playing so positively.

It was always good to watch DJ's moral dudgeon unleashed, especially memorable was the occasion at the Basin Reserve on the occasion it was revealed Chris Cairns had been out rather late at a local drinking establishment. When seeking comment from the relatively new chief executive of New Zealand Cricket, we of the assembled media were dismissed form the late Christopher Doig's presence with what could best be described as an operatic flourish in the grand manner of the opera singer that he was. But DJ, who like most of us enjoyed an excellent working relationship with Doig, chased after him and told him that the matter was going to have to be addressed and some suitable situation was resolved. There was also the occasion in Napier when wicketkeeper Ian Smith took issue with New Zealand's method of dismissal against a rising star in the game Sachin Tendulkar. A very public lunchtime spat saw DJ give as good as he got.

Don liked a bit of a singalong and in the right circumstances, and in the right place, and Christchurch's Jolly Poacher, opposite the Casino, was exactly that, the sing-alongs could get quite advanced. It was just over the road from where we usually stayed at the Copthorne on Durham Street, and at the hour at which we finished the road could generally be negotiated with some ease. Fortunately, the other clientele never seemed to mind because we never got into any strife and if there was a prospect of that DJ always seemed to have a suitable calming influence.

There were times when his reactions to change caught him out. The day we of the cricket media were flown to Christchurch for the unveiling of the future shape of New Zealand Cricket in the wake of the Hood Report was one particular occasion. The former, and out-dated, workings of the board of New Zealand Cricket needed to be replaced, but that had worked quite well for DJ over the years in terms of contacts and suitable behind the scenes information, and it was possible to detect in his questioning at that conference that the world he knew was slipping away. But he wasn't going to let it go easily.

It did represent the end of an era and when rugby went professional later that same year the die was cast and access to players and officials that had been a way of life for generations of journalists became significantly reduced. There were still the odd disclosures but they became just that, odd and few and far between. But there's no doubt as time has gone on, he had the best of it.

DJ was a wonderful servant of the New Zealand Herald, a great travelling companion and a damned good bloke. Vale Don Cameron.