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Byron Shire
May 18, 2022

Vale Craig McGregor, 1933 – 2022

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Author and journalist, Craig McGregor. Photo Kate Nutt

Craig McGregor was born in 1933, and grew up in Jamberoo, on the south coast of NSW, with his parents and three brothers.

The family moved to Sydney, where Craig won a scholarship to Cranbrook. When he left school, he got a cadetship at The Sydney Morning Herald and completed his university degree by studying at night.

Craig worked on a cargo boat to England where, by beautiful coincidence, he met the love of his life, Jane, on one of the famous Ban the Bomb marches from Aldermaston to London.

Marrying in 1961, Craig and Jane returned to Sydney where they had four children – Rob, Kate, Sarah, and Clare. Craig continued to write for The Sydney Morning Herald, including interviewing Bob Dylan during his 1966 tour of Australia, and later edited the book Bob Dylan: A retrospective (1972).

In 1968, Craig was awarded a two-year Harkness Fellowship to live in New York, and witnessed an intense time in America’s cultural history.

While there, he wrote for The New York Times, including profiles on Lillian Roxon, Kris Kristofferson, Frank Zappa, and commentary on American music, politics, and popular culture.

This work was later compiled in his book Up Against the Wall, America (1973). Always the adventurers, Craig and Jane with their four kids under the age of seven travelled extensively throughout America in a campervan.

When the family returned to Australia, Craig continued to write for The National Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, and other contemporary publications.

Profile writing

He perfected the art of profile writing, including pieces on Keating, Hawke, Clive James, Peter Brock, and Jill Wran, for which he won a Walkley Award.

In the ’80s, Craig also lectured at Sydney College of the Arts (often blasting his students with loud music during his lectures), and later became an innovative Head of Visual Communications at the University of Technology.

He also taught creative writing at Lismore CAE in the early ’80s.

Over his long writing career, as well as significant contributions to journalism, Craig wrote more than nineteen groundbreaking non-fiction books on class, politics, and popular culture in Australia.

He also wrote two novels and published two collections of short stories as well as writing poetry.

A keen boardrider, Craig wrote This Surfing Life with Midget Farrelly in 1967, and later, History of Surfing, with Nat Young (1983). Craig’s love of surfing brought him to Byron Bay in the early ’60s, where a literary grant enabled the family to live at Wategos for six months.

Craig and Jane’s and the family’s connection with the north coast spans many decades, including living at Wategos (where Craig planted the pandanus and casuarina trees along the front that people now enjoy), Repentance Creek, Tyagarah, and Sunrise. Craig and Jane have lived permanently in Byron Bay since 2000, forging many deep friendships and connections within the community.

Sadly Craig suffered a debilitating stroke in 2018, which left him needing intensive nursing assistance.

The exceptional care he received at Byron Aged Care from the staff and nurses, as well Jane’s love, enabled Craig to maintain strong connections with his family and friends. 

Deep conversationist

Readers may remember Craig before his stroke as the bearded benefactor of buskers and hitchhikers.

He always enjoyed deep conversations about politics and people with anyone and everyone. Craig was a celebrated writer, but most importantly he was an exceptional husband, father, and friend. He taught us to be generous, optimistic, and passionate about these precious lives of ours.

He will always be our lighthouse.

Tributes from Kerry O’Brien, David Leser

Kerry O’Brien said, ‘Craig was one of the outstanding social commentators of his generation and a genuine trailblazer as a journalist’.

‘His writing on class in Australia exploded the mythology around our claims to egalitarianism, and his political profiles in the 1970s and ’80s became the benchmark for those who followed in his wake.

‘His eloquence across the lunch table was delivered with fine indignation and his sense of fairness and justice was profound’.

David Leser said, ‘Craig McGregor was one of the blazing stars in the Australian intellectual and cultural firmament. For more than 60 years he wrote about everything from politics, class, popular culture, surfing and architecture to love, sex, desire and marriage. His skills were vast and many, matched only by his limitless curiosity.

‘He was an author, journalist, cultural critic, essayist, memoirist, profile writer, poet, emeritus professor, and walking encyclopaedia on American R&B and jazz.

‘He was also my first journalistic mentor and close friend. He taught me – and a generation of other writers and students – what it meant to be joyful and celebratory, while still engaged in the deadly serious business of exposing injustice’.

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