CREW, John (1907-2007)

John Crew
John Crew at the community event to plant a memorial garden for Roma Hilder and other residents who had played a part in the cultural and environmental life of the Castlecrag community.
19 January 1986.
Rita Kaye photo.

John Crew was born in working class London to John, a tunneller, and Elizabeth of Italian background. His sharp intellect and lively writing skills earned him Fleet Street during school holidays until e enlisted in the Royal Navy as a 17-year old. He visited Australia on HMS Golden Hind in 1946 and was immediately struck by the opportunities the country offered.

John migrated to New South Wales in 1949 and found a position as a reporter with the Daily Liberal in Dubbo. Two years later he won the Monty Grover prize for cadet journalists and joined the ABC’s Darwin office. There he met Laura Farlow, his future wife, and struck a deal with Wally Hamilton, the ABC’s editor-in-chief, that he would stay in Darwin provided he got one of the first jobs in TV News.

That pledge became reality in 1956 when he was posted to ABC Television on 1956, so John and Laura established themselves in Castlecrag with their growing family. He was a contributing journalist to the opening night of ABN2 at Gore Hill in Sydney on 5 November 1956. In 1963 John produced Ten Million Strong, an ABC contribution on the creation of Malaysia to an international documentary series. The following year he joined his ABC colleagues Philip Hickie and Kenneth Cook in the enterprise Cook in Patrician Films, which made animated cartoons, nature, heritage, adventure and science programs for children, which were sold to the ABC.

John and Laura held strong environmental and social justice principles which they applied in their relationship with the bushland in Castlecrag. Vegetables were grown in the back yard and all the family enjoyed the rock, the bush and Middle Harbour. John was strongly opposed to the Vietnam War and stood in the 1966 election for Gordon Barton’s Liberal Reform Party. He was unsuccessful, but established a close relationship with Barton and, when he launched the Sunday Observer newspaper in Melbourne, Crew was its founding editor.

Crew was back with the ABC as a senior producer for its new current Affairs program This Day Tonight in 1967. He remained with the program until he was recruited by the new Australian Film & Television School in 1973.

John joined the committee formed by the Progress Association in early 1974 to lobby against the challenge of the Warringah Expressway and soon assumed a prominent role in its affairs. With his journalist background he was cajoled into standing for local council on an environmental platform and he was elected to represent the Middle Harbour Ward in September 1974.

During his time on Council, John was a strong backer of council’s new central library in Chatswood and played a key role in saving Walter Burley Griffin’s Willoughby Incinerator from demolition. He helped to establish the Walter Burley Griffin Trust (NSW), which mobilised influential architects and opinion leaders to support its cause and it was John’s initiative in obtaining a $50,000 grant from the Federal Government’s National Estate Program for Council that was to prove decisive in saving the building.

Following the election of the Wran Government in May 1976 and its decision to fulfil its election pledge to abandon the Warringah Expressway extension to Seaforth, John announced that he would not contest the 1977 Council elections. He remained active in the anti-expressway committee, however, and played a key role in the decision of the Wran Government to launch the Commission of Inquiry into the Warringah Transport Corridor headed by David Kirby.

In 1976 John played a key role in establishing in establishing the Castlecrag branch of the Australian Labor Party. Branch members met in the homes of various members and held rigorous debates on the issues of the time. The writer got to know John and Laura as close friends at this time, regularly visiting their home and enjoying their generous hospitality and engaging repartee.

In the early 1980s John and Laura had purchased 14 hectares of ironbark forest and ancient cycad palms on the shores of Baragoot Lake near Bermagui as their dream retirement retreat. Implementing their plans was postponed, however, as ATN-7 had enticed John back to television as a current affairs executive producer. He worked at Channel 7 for two years, including with Clive Robertson on Newsworld.

In 1988 John and Laura set up a tent by the lake, upgraded to a small caravan and finally to a handsome pole house, Ironbark. They were active in their new community until well until John had an unfortunate fall while getting onto his pushbike on 27 December 2007 that resulted in a slow bleed on the brain. This caused him to fall into a coma that night, from which he didn’t recover, dying three days later.

–Bob McKillop

1 Brian Davies, ‘Newsman of a different age’, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 January 2008.

2 Mark Crew, ‘John Crew, 1927-2007’, The Crag, No 166, February 2008.

3 RF McKillop, Managing our Waste: An environmental history of Flat Rock Creek and the Willoughby Incinerator, 1900-2011. Castlecrag, MWA International, 2012