When I called Frankston YCW Football Club’s official photographer and Mornington resident Craig Barrett to have a chat for this article for GameFace, Craig said in an understated manner, “I am a bit surprised you want to interview me!”
My response to Craig, “Craig, everyone has a story to tell!” Almost an hour later, when our enjoyable phone conversation ended, I said thought, what a story, his life is inspirational considering the barriers and hardships he has endured, but he has such a positive attitude.
Craig has achieved much in his life with photography starting, to become more than just a hobby. “I love taking photos for the Stonecats. I have been doing it since my step son, Bailey Angwin began playing footy with YCW.”
He says one of the most important skills of taking photos at a fast moving sport like footy is anticipation. “The more you do it, you learn how to anticipate when a highlight is about to occur,” He says thoughtfully.
“You can tell when something special is going to happen by watching a player and his movements. I remember star Frankston YCW forward Paul Minchington, who flew above a pack and nearly took a screamer. I was happy with that one, although it would have been better, if he had have taken the mark,” Craig says laughing.
When asked what his biggest miss was? “I was stationed one day during a reserves game in front of Patrick Johnson from the Stonecats and I knew he liked to fly for his marks, but the phone rang. I felt the ball was coming in his direction, but I decided to answer the phone and sure enough, Patrick flew high and took a ripper, but unfortunately I missed it,” Craig says ruefully.
One of his photos though was put on the front page of the MPNFL record in recent seasons. “I manage to capture Paul Scanlon from the Pines in a final against Mt Eliza and was surprised and delighted that the League put it on the front page. That meant a lot,” He adds proudly.
Craig says not having footy this year has been tough. “I have really missed it and at times it’s been hard to cope without being able to go and watch the Stonecats play and take photos, but the MPCA cricket season starts tomorrow, November 14th, and I will head down to Jubilee Park and take photos of the Stonecat cricketers. I can’t wait,” He says enthusiastically.
“This is my second year taking photos of the cricket. It can be a bit of a challenge as the ball travels faster and you need to know pretty quickly when getting ready to shoot what to focus on the batsman, bowler or if possible the ball. It’s generally a bit easier to concentrate on the player.”
Growing up, Craig Loved sport and was a talent road cyclist. He was on the way to having a fine career as a professional cyclist having won the Australian Junior Road Race as an 18 year old in 1980 at Sandown and then later that year at the famous Tasmanian sporting carnival held over the Christmas period every year, he won the Latrobe Wheel Race.
“Winning both those events were tremendous highlights. In the Latrobe Wheel Race, I beat one of Australia’s best ever cyclists, 1972 Olympic Games Silver Medalist and 5 time world championship gold medalist, Danny Clark along with star Swiss pair Hans Kanel and Yurs Frueller.”
Craig got into the sport at the age of 12 encouraged by his older brother Greg, who gave it up a few years later to get in the Fire brigade.
For Craig, his budding Professional cycling career ended in early 1983, when riding his motorbike home to Glenroy, where he grew up in the North Western Suburbs along the Tullamarine Freeway, he was riding behind a truck, when one of the brooms it had on board fell off.
Craig takes up the rest of this harrowing story. “I hit the broom and lost control crashing into a car. I knew I had serious injuries and was in real trouble as in the process of being thrown off my bike, I ruptured an artery in the heart.”
“I went to the Royal Melbourne Hospital and was told I needed to have an operation to mend the artery, otherwise I would have died that night. The Doctors also told me that it was likely nerve damage from the operation would result in me becoming a paraplegic.”
Sadly for Craig he did become a paraplegic and he spent six months recovering in the Austin Hospital. Incredibly that positive disposition of Craig Barrett kicked in despite having to rebuild his life.
“There were so many new things to get used to. Firstly it was learning how to use a wheelchair as I knew it was going to be my constant companion for the rest of my life. I was lucky I still had the use of my hands as I had to dress myself differently, but I was still alive and there were so many things I could do and was determined to as well.”
He admits it was tough being in the Austin Hospital early days, especially knowing that having kids could not happen. “I cried for a few days after receiving that news but I realised pretty quickly there were worse people off than me.”
Craig recounts one such example. “I remember being in the Austin and this guy came in. He had been working on a building, when he came in contact with an electric current, which blew the top of his head off. He also lost his feet and was thrown off the building and broke his back.”
“He was in a bed next to me and the nurses and doctors were changing his bandages all the time. He was in so much pain. That put my situation in perspective somewhat.”
There was no doubt that Craig Barrett was resilient and was still keen to play sport despite his disability, at the highest level he could.
Not long after finishing his rehabilitation, he started playing Wheelchair basketball in late 1983 and in less than a year was in contention to represent Australia at the 1984 Paralympics in LA.
“I made the initial squad of 25, but was cut from one of the final lists of around 22, before I think they took 15 to the Games. Australia actually won the gold medal, which would have been fantastic to be part of,” He says with pride.
However, it just indicated how much talent and determination Craig had as an athlete to get that far so quickly as he had to learn how to use a wheelchair in everyday life let alone a basketball court.
“In wheelchair basketball, it’s all about how your disability is classified. My understanding is a team is only allowed a total of 14 points. I was a low point at one due to the seriousness of my disability, which meant my role was as a blocker for the least disabled who were generally labeled as the highest points at 4 or 5, who were the shooters and playmakers.”
His lesson on the fascinating sport of wheelchair basketball continues on. “As the blocker my job was to crash into my opponent’s wheelchair and protect my team mate. That resulted in being bowled over a few times and falling out of my chair, but that was the fun part. I loved it,” Craig says chuckling.
At that stage he was only 21, and another four years after just missing out on national representation in a sport you have participated in for less than a year, improving your skills and gaining more experience would have no doubt increased Craig’s chances of making the Australian Wheelchair Basketball team in Seoul.
“It would have been nice,’ Craig muses wistfully. However, work got in the way and this impressive man has been employed by a number of major companies over the years.
“I spent seven years as a Share Registry Manager for Coopers and Lybrand, which eventually merged to become the Iconic PriceWaterhouseCoopers. After that, well known law firm Corr, Chambers and Westgarth gave me an opportunity to work in IT.”
“It’s fantastic, these large companies have employed people of all abilities, taking the attitude, show us what you can do and I will always be indebted to them for that.”
Craig as well as Wheelchair basketball has played Wheelchair Tennis and Weightlfting. “I get annoyed today that so many young people have talent, but tend to waste it. I hope these youngsters with their lives in front of them reach their full potential.”
Craig has often used that message when talking at Primary and secondary schools. “My main advice is not to speed on the road, don’t drink when you drive and be careful.”
Having achieved so much in his life, Craig does not see himself as disabled. “I reckon I am far from it,” He says with pride.
“I was with a friend at the Footy at Dromana and a lady came up to me and was upset talking about her son with MS and asked how I coped being in a wheelchair and that she was finding it difficult.”
“My piece of advice to her was look around this room and I said I reckon a large portion of the people here would have some form of disability that we don’t know about. I always try and be positive,” That is my motto.
Although, his accident denied him the chance to have kids of his own, he believes he has been blessed being part of Bailey Angwin’s life since meeting his Mum, Kim, 15 years ago, when Bailey was five.
“To be honest it feels like he is my own child. I always try to be there to support him, with whatever he wants to do. When asked what advice he would give Bailey, if he wanted to ride a motorbike. Craig Laughs and says, “I don’t think that will happen, He hasn’t even got his drivers licence yet!”
In regard to Bailey’s footy, and how far he could go in the sport? Craig reiterates. “Again, It’s up to him. He seems to love it, but he also really needs to want it.”
There was a regret for Craig last year. He spent three months in hospital having a pin which had been inserted in his leg after his accident all those years ago, being removed from his hip after it had expanded into that region.
That meant he missed being in the thick of the action taking photos for the Stonecats on Division One Grand Final day when they beat Mt Eliza, where Bailey Angwin played a pivotal role kicking a big goal.
Again though, Craig puts a positive spin on it. “I listened to GameFace’s call of the game. It was fantastic.”
Craig is always investing in new equipment for his photography. “You have to keep up with these ever changing technological times. There are different models, which provide more pixels.”
I have telephoto lenses and state of the art settings to adjust to the conditions. Some of my favourite pictures of players are them playing in the rain. They look great,” He says with wonderful enthusiasm.
He also does his own editing. “I taught myself how to do it. It’s another vital tool and skill of the trade.”
As well as being a photographer of high quality, Craig runs a company called Web Worx and is kept busy designing, hosting and creating websites.
Despite the accident on the Tullamarine Freeway, which changed his live over 37 years ago, Craig Barrett does not regret spending most of his life in a wheelchair. “It’s allowed me to take part in so many different experiences that have benefitted me in my life.”
Kim, Bailey and everyone else who knows him are very fortunate to have a great, humble and inspirational person like Craig Barrett in their lives and so are the Frankston YCW Stonecats as their resident photographer.
We look forward to his outstanding batch of photos for the upcoming cricket season and next year’s long awaited football season, but Craig, if even little old me can offer you some words of wisdom, if you anticipate something big is likely to happen on a footy field and the phone rings, let it go through to message bank. Ok?