Much has been written about Charlie King, but it took his 15-year-old daughter Emma to turn the tables on veteran Grandstand presenter


Posed mid-shot of man wearing sunglasses beside his daughter on a veranda beneath an undercroft.

Much has been written about Charlie King, but it took his 15-year-old daughter Emma to turn the tables on veteran Grandstand presenter.

Key points:

  • Veteran Grandstand broadcaster Charlie King is interviewed by his 15-year-old daughter to mine the family history on ABC Radio Darwin
  • It revealed stories about racism, impoverishment, and rock’n’roll
  • Unskilled Charlie became both a drummer and broadcaster by being the right person in the right place at the right time

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised the following article contains images of people who have died.

Speaking on ABC Radio Darwin she asked her father why camping was not a family activity.

“I did so much camping when I was young, I don’t want to rough it any more,” he said.

“But we camped? We had fun?”

Emma shot back: “We camped once. We had a generator. We had aircon”.

One such uncomfortable unplanned camping trip of Charlie’s was from hometown Alice Springs to Darwin in the 1960s, because he missed his family.

A robbery forced him to hitchhike for three days with two friends and only Charlie’s remaining 18 shillings to their name.

“We were frightfully hungry and thirsty,” he said.

But 500 kilometres north they bumped into his brother Reg, who was about to drive to Darwin.

Reg shot a turkey from the wheel.

Three young girls sitting around a campside campfire in twilight

Proof that the King family indeed went camping — once. With a generator. Emma King camping with nieces Olivia and Mia at Kalkarindji 2016.(Supplied: Charlie King)

Cheap crack

King’s first experience of racism was walking the pavement with friends as a young boy living in Quorn, South Australia.

“I thought it was just a nursery rhyme: ‘If you step on the crack, you marry a black’,” he said.

“Mum told me what it meant.

“I was absolutely horrified I was singing it. It might have been aimed at me.”

As a prefect, King was captain of the school football and cricket teams.

“But there were students’ houses in Quorn where I wasn’t welcome,” he said.

“We’d get to the gate and they’d say: ‘You’ve got to wait out here’.

Tight posed shot with man with baby girl wearing an All Blacks woollen hat. Indoors

Charlie King and daughter Emma in New Zealand.(Supplied: Charlie King)

Fake it until you make it

King’s passion as a 16-year-old was pretending to play the drums. And his big break was bizarre.

King was watching a car crossing Alice Springs’ flooded Todd River, coaxed by the reluctant driver’s friends opposite.

“He got three-quarters across and he was washed off the causeway. Drums flew out of the car,” he said.

“He was so angry and said to his friends: ‘I’ll never play drums with you again. I’ve lost my drums and my car’.”

This band was The Statics and King had been to all their gigs and emulated the drummer from the crowd.

They recognised him, and invited him to play a real kit for the first time — that night at a gig in the YMCA.

“I played the start of The Shadows’ Apache and the crowd was screaming and yelling,” he said.

old posed family photo of man and woman. Man has arm around woman. Colourized.

Charlie’s parents Jack and Ruby King.(Supplied: Charlie King)

A career in twisted timber

The Statics became The Scene, most famous for Cold Chisel’s Ian Moss.

King’s parents moved to Darwin but did not want to interrupt his music career or mechanics apprenticeship.

“As soon as they left, I stopped going to work and concentrated on playing drums,” he said.

But they were missed and young Charlie embarked on the horrific hitchhike to start the next stage of his life.

The young builder wisely left his caravan to stay in his sister’s house during Cyclone Tracy in 1974.

After helping rebuild, he was compelled to study for a career in social work and community development after loading timber for a shonky delivery driver heading to remote Maningrida.

“He said, ‘It doesn’t matter, just throw the twisted ones in there. It’s only for the mob out bush. If they’re no good they’ll burn them and come back and buy more’,” King said.

Hand-sketched headshot of man

Emma is a talented artist. She drew this picture of her dad Charlie King.(Supplied: Emma King)

The great pretender

But social work in a small town was troubling.

“I just didn’t want to keep seeing people whose lives I was investigating,” he said.

A release was pretending to call the weekly NT Football League games with his friends from the stalls, much to the entertainment of those in earshot.

“One day I got phoned by people making a tuberculosis ad and they said: ‘We like the sound of your voice’,” he said.

ABC sports commentator Charlie King early in his career

Charlie King became an ABC Grandstand presenter in the 1990s after he was discovered while pretending to call games at NTFL matches.(Supplied)

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