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Legendary Bathurst broadcaster opens up on Channel 7 axing

LEGENDARY news and sports broadcaster Garry Wilkinson has opened up on his axing by Channel 7, the network with which he spent most of his time working for on Australian television.

Speaking on the V8 Sleuth Podcast Polished by Bowden’s Own Car Care with host Aaron Noonan recently in an engaging two-part episode, Wilkinson described his contract not being renewed 20 years ago in early 2003 as a complete surprise.

“I didn’t know something was up,” Wilkinson reflected.

“They said, ‘Wilko, your current contract’s coming up for renewal, we need to have a talk’. I said ‘yeah. OK’, I was in Melbourne doing the tennis, I’d be back on Monday morning. ‘Oh no mate, no, you’ve been working your backside off down there at the tennis, take a couple of days off and come in on Wednesday’.

“I was thinking about a contract renewal and I turned up for the meeting. There were only two people in the room surprisingly, (and) the surprise was the head of Human Resources. I walked in, neither of them spoke and they just handed me an envelope.

“I opened the envelope and that was it. Goodbye. There’s a back story to that I can’t tell you, the reasons why and manipulations that went on behind the scenes to engineer someone else into the vacancy left by my departure, but that’s neither here nor there.

Wilkinson and Allan Moffat, who joined the Channel 7 commentary team. Photo: Supplied.

“At the time I had five-year-old twins and a mortgage, substantial, I thought, ‘holy mother, what am I going to do here?’

“You think you’re traveling well; I had been at Seven in Sydney for 28 years and at that point I’d done 35 Australian Opens and Davis Cups and Olympic and Commonwealth Games and Bathurst and all that sort of stuff.

“I had just come off an Australian Open and not long off a Commonwealth Games in Manchester. It was only two years after a hugely successful Sydney Olympic Games, for which I commentated on the Gold Medal-winning equestrian event, I did the Opening and Closing Ceremonies to massive, massive ratings success, a tremendous ratings success and then, pfft, gone!”

Wilkinson opens up in the podcast about a range of other topics, including the years of fun he had working on the Channel 7 motorsport telecasts, including the Bathurst 1000, Australian Touring Car Championship and various other events.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Wilkinson’s last Bathurst 1000 broadcast with Channel 7 at the 1998 AMP Bathurst 1000 Super Touring race.

“The first 10 years after my last Bathurst I did not watch a motor racing broadcast, but gradually I came back to it, particularly Bathurst. I watch it religiously,” Wilkinson says

Wilkinson may not have had any on-air exposure to motorsport before his time with Channel 7 began in the late 1970s, but he looks back on his time in the sport fondly.

“I was involved in motorsport because working in network television is like eating in one of those fine dining restaurants,” he reflected.

“It’s a set menu, you don’t get to choose what you eat, what’s on the menu is what’s there. You can choose not to eat it, but you’re going to starve. And in television, if you knock back what’s on the menu, you’re not going to have a job for very long.

“I was involved for a little over 25 years with motorsport because the network had the rights to the coverage. I was involved because it was on the (TV) menu.

“Motorsport was not the largest single component (in Wilkinson’s TV career) but was by far and away as enjoyable as everything else put together and provided more on-going friends and associates and a hell of a lot of excitement, adventure and fun than everything else put together.”

Wilkinson on the scene with the late Ivan Stibbard at the declaration of the end of the 1981 James Hardie 1000 at Bathurst. Photo: Supplied.
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