Great characters of Australian life: Charlie King

by Rob Cross (ABC, Northern Territory)

 

A milestone passed last weekend. One that was largely unnoticed outside the Northern Territory. Grandstand broadcaster Charlie King called his 600th Northern Territory Football League game.

 

While colleagues of Charlie’s have called three times that number, that’s only part of Charlie King’s story.

 

If ever there was a more apt name.

 

For his home town and indeed the whole Northern Territory taking in his birthplace of Alice Springs is somewhat of his King-dom.

 

Charlie. Cheeky Charlie. Warm Charlie. Everybody’s friend Charlie. Passionate, hardworking, tireless Charlie.

 

He came to Australian Rules football commentary from child protection … a calling that to this day has him prioritising the family unit especially within the Indigenous community.

 

Charlie is the champion of No More .. an anti-domestic violence campaign. His quest to reduce the scourge of family violence has taken him from the streets of remote communities to the United States.

 

His humanity has no boundaries.

 

After the Paris terror attacks Charlie rang the coaches of St Mary’s and Nightcliff less than two hours before their Sunday afternoon NTFL game to arrange the teams to enter the ground together and link arms .. the calling card of No More.

 

With an hour to go he was ringing Darwin’s media to film the gesture and searching for a French flag.

 

Oh, and he can call. His rich voice first pricked the ears of the ABC more than two decades ago.

 

A career started entertaining mates by giving local players the names of VFL stars.

 

A bent forged at the feet of his father .. lights out but for the end of his Dad’s burning cigarette .. listening to cricket from England and the VFL.

 

Charlie marvelled at Andrew McLeod, shared commentary and laughs with Mathew Stokes’ father John and can recite favourite snippets of former colleague Tim Lane.

 

He’s covered Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

 

But it’s Australian Rules that’s his passion. Within the NT he’s called from Alice to the Tiwi Islands. He’s still to tick off the Gurindji Eagles from Kalkarindji to recognise his mother who was part of the Stolen Generations.

 

He hasn’t put a figure on where he’ll finish but with ABC radio and the NTFL YouTube channel there’s scope for many more.

 

Budget cuts forced the ABC to end its NTFL TV coverage .. the tribute from former St Kilda star and NT Thunder coach Xavier Clarke summed up its importance.

 

He and his mates and brothers religiously watched Charlie and the packaged coverage at 9am every Sunday morning.

 

Charlie’s worked to get it back. Shute Shield, VFL, SANFL, WAFL and Queensland Cup have all disappeared but the NTFL holds a far greater place in Territory life.

 

Life in the Territory is so much richer for Charlie King .. he barely moves five metres in shopping centres without being approached, he MCs Prime Ministerial visits, awards nights and almost every other major event in the Top End.

 

There’s no sign of him slowing down at the ABC, a golden microphone presented to him to mark the occasion will be warmed by his dulcet tones until he calls time.

 

He’s a story teller without peer, a conversationalist .. one listener recalled a chance interview with Australian rock legend Doc Neeson that had him pulling off the road to hear Charlie draw Doc across sport and into a life story Rolling Stone would have been proud to publish.

 

Charlie’s own musical pursuits are pre-dawn in his Darwin garage.

 

There’s talk of a bike ride to finish the other half of his father’s journey around Australia.

 

And there’s his role as chair of the Bonner Committee advising the ABC on Indigenous issues .. including finding someone to follow in his footsteps.

 

It’s not often people find their true calling .. Charlie King lives it.

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