February 20, 1933 – September 7, 2016
By Campbell Burnes
Not too far from the bar at the Barbarians clubrooms you will find Sleepy’s Corner, where lie many of Don Cameron’s sports books, which he kindly donated to the club a few years ago.
It was the sort of selfless gesture one had come to expect from this generous man, who died yesterday with a legacy intact as one of the country’s great sports writers.
A prolific wordsmith whose style was of a different age, when journalistic essays, imbued with perspective, were the norm rather than the tight, fast-paced reports of today. That is not to say DJ, or Sleepy to his mates (perhaps on account of his prodigious eyebrows), was not prolific and industrious. Far from it. He wrote several books, filled with his descriptive, some might say florid, prose.
You see, he learned from the master, TP McLean, and succeeded the great scribe as the Herald’s senior rugby writer in the late 1970s. In all, he was at the paper for nigh on 50 years. His status was already secure as the country’s finest cricket journalist, so he worked hard 12 months of the year. But he made many of his rugby friends covering the Auckland teams of the 1950s and ‘60s, carving a reputation as a player’s journo, always able to honour an off the record chat. Playing euchre down the back of the team bus was a good way to gain trust. Unimaginable now.
He was a legend of the press box, but not an aloof character. Rather he was a welcoming presence to wide-eyed young journos of all abilities and pretensions. This writer can recall sitting between DJ and Lindsay Knight, another Barbarian, at a North Harbour NPC match in 2002. I cannot recall much of the game, but I can tell you I learned more in 80 minutes listening to the musings of those two gentlemen. Indeed, DJ was most helpful to my career, quick with an encouraging word. He was straight on the phone when I went through the most challenging period in 2007. You discover your true friends and colleagues in those times.
DJ loved the Barbarians and their ethos, and enjoyed swapping tales with a cold one at the Eden Park premises. There was little ego to the man and he was not one to force his views in a debate.
The Barbarians motto: ‘Rugby is a game for gentlemen in all classes but for no bad sportsman in any class’ could have been made with DJ Cameron in mind.
DJ died in Auckland, aged 83, after a short illness. Funeral details will follow shortly, but they will come from far and wide to farewell this gentleman.