By LACHLAN MOORHEAD
WHILE hosting morning radio recently, presenter Tony Jones was chastised on social media for commenting about Dandenong.
With his knowledge about the suburb questioned, the veteran Channel Nine sports presenter’s response to the online punter was simple.
“I was born there and grew up in Noble Park,” Jones tweeted.
“You were saying?”
Jones was born in Dandenong Hospital and spent his childhood moving to different houses throughout Noble Park and Springvale.
And the connections don’t stop there.
His grandmother, Margaret, used to put on theatre shows at Dandenong Town Hall and he was named after St Anthony’s Parish in Noble Park.
“I went to a few schools, we were a bit like gypsies,” he told the Journal.
“I went to Heatherhill Primary and then left there and went to Southvale Primary School and then Coomoora Primary (now Keysborough Primary) when it was brand new, and then for high school we moved interstate.
“It was a great area, a good area to grow up.”
Jones remembers family trips to Sandown Park Greyhound Track on a Thursday night when, as a kid, he would hunt for loose change.
“I used to walk around the bookies’ ring there and try and find money on the ground amongst all the tickets and all that sort of stuff,” he said.
Other memories synonymous with his childhood in Dandenong are embedded in Jones’s mind.
He recalls trips to Dandenong Market where he savoured the taste of a hot jam donut.
Then there’s his grandfather who used to search through the tip and set up a trash and treasure stall with the salvaged items near the Dandenong drive-in.
“We had a house in Treesbank Avenue. That one really does hold special memories for me,” Jones said.
“That’s where I remember Santa coming and it was a big house and we had chooks out the back and I had this fantastic treehouse.
“I remember that house fondly and it wasn’t that long ago I drove past it and it just looks nothing like the house I used to live in.”
It wasn’t until Jones moved interstate and then back to Victoria that his career in the media began.
Thrown a lifeline at radio station 3NE in Wangaratta in his early 20s, newshound Jones then served a year-long stint at 3AW before being poached by Channel Nine where he clocks up 30 years of service next May.
“This is what I say to young journos – there is a thing called being in the right place at the right time and there’s also a thing of making your own luck,” he said.
“Now when I came here in ’86, I was in a sports department with a number of guys and one of them was Max Walker who was our main newsreader.
“Well, Max’s star just went through the roof and in the end he couldn’t commit to doing Monday to Friday news.
“So he moved on and then Peter Mitchell, from Channel Seven, he became the Monday to Friday reader.
“I’d been there two years and I’m reading weekends and then a year later I’m reading Monday to Friday, I was just absolutely blessed.”
Jones’s career highlights are almost too many to name but the various Olympics, an interview with Nelson Mandela and the failed Melbourne and Hawthorn football club merger rate a mention.
“February ’94 I was in South Africa for the first cricket tour to go back to South Africa and I interviewed Mandela in his office. That was pretty good,” he said.
“Some of the big local stories here… I reckon the merger, that was ’96, I think, Melbourne/Hawthorn, that was huge, just the emotion and the anger and the sheer angst and the passion, it was just phenomenal.”
But is it just fate that one of Tony Jones’s most memorable news stories saw him return to his roots?
Six years ago he went back to Dandenong to cover a yarn where an elderly lady from the senior citizens group found a gun in the toilet of a local TAB.
“I remember we went out to the senior citizens group out Dandenong way, all the other TV channels were there, we all interviewed this woman, then when everyone left, I went down to the Dandenong Plaza and went to a toy shop and bought a toy gun and went back there and said ‘look, do you mind if we re-create it?’” Jones recalled.
“So we went into the toilet and recreated it and when it went to air I did it all in black and white, it looked like CCTV.
“I just always remember that one. I use it sometimes as an example to other journos just to think outside the square a little bit.
“And when everyone else gets in their cars and drives away just duck off and do something else a little extra – go the extra yard.”