A zest for life, serendipity and a passion for history keep Keith Conlon OAM - aka Mr South Australia - energised and in high demand.
The veteran broadcaster is involved in several community groups, plays the drums, has written theatre shows, leads the Ride with Keith weekly cycling group, and published facts about South Australian historical events with his "On This Day" series on his X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook social media accounts. Most recently he was Chair of the SA Heritage Council.
He had a stellar career in broadcasting; he helped set up what is now Radio Adelaide, was on the SA version of travel show Postcards for 16 years, hosted the weeknight news on ABC, and presented radio programs for ABC 891 and FIVEaa.
Keith, of North Adelaide, turns 80 in April 2024 and has been retired - or at least not in formally paid full-time work - for 10 years. Reflecting back, there was no particular path he followed - it was all serendipity.
"Most of these things have just happened," he said.
"If you get involved in something and it starts with riding your bike with a mate, then that's about just having a bit of get up and go; isn't it about having a bit of energy for life?"
Ride with Keith is a free bike ride/impromptu heritage tour each Wednesday into the Park Lands and beyond. It was born from cycling for fitness and fun with the late footballer Craig Cock and a meeting with Stephen Sanders, who worked at Bicycle Express in Halifax Street.
They met through the Crows Foundation - which Keith chaired. Stephen gave the idea to Keith about starting a weekly ride once he retired. That ride will celebrate its 10th birthday in February 2024.
"It's turned into a really important part of my life, both in the sense that it's an appointment - I've got to turn up or I'll get heaps if I don't turn up - and I'm always looking ahead to what else we could do," Keith said.
According to Keith, there are about eight bike routes from that bike shop, if you limit yourself to bike paths and the occasional quiet street. He makes them exciting by taking back streets, forgotten routes, paths off the beaten track, and most of all, finding new reasons to loop history into it.
"The short description of the ride is that it's a bike club with no rules, but there will be a story. And they always get a story," he said.
His love of old things was germinated from his time as a child living in Blackwood and Colonel Light Gardens. He'll take the group past gatekeepers' cottages to grand mansions and villages now hidden in the suburbs. The group also loves getting immersed in nature in our surrounding wetlands and park trails.
"One of my very enjoyable brain tasks each week is working out what the excuse is for this week's ride."
Even talking about the Parklands - itself a 19km well-trodden loop - he's found ways to weave history and humour into a ride. The group rode through the parklands in honour of landscape gardener and horticulturalist August Wilhelm Pelzer, who was appointed by the Adelaide City Council as city gardener in August 1899.
"All of the things we take for granted - the beautiful plane tree avenues, the elms, the pines, they're all over 100 years old. Well, somebody had to plant them and somebody had to get on with it, so we celebrated him," Keith said.
To sum it all up:
"There's a lot of nonsense involved in what is an underlying serious task."
Celebrating, protecting and preserving heritage is close to Keith's heart. In his time on the SA Heritage Council, one of its roles was to promote heritage - what was historic, what had a sense of place about it, what could be done with it. But there is more to it than that.
"It's well established through social science around the world that people get a sense of place, meaning and enjoyment about saying, 'this is ours'. It is community," he said.
"The owners are guardians, but we the community enjoy it. It's sort of a fifth columnist job - you're always quietly slipping in a bit of history and heritage, but it means the next time they go there, they enjoy it a bit more."
Keith's foray into media wasn't planned, but a serendipitous nature of events got him into the industry. With degrees in history and law at the University of Adelaide, it was off the back of the latter, plus a change in technology, that he ended up with his first job in media - a role with 5AD in 1968.
The station was experimenting with this new technology called talkback. Keith was involved as a young volunteer panel member, that would get him in the building. That led to Keith researching for Bob Francis and getting on the air.
With an academic background and some on-the-ground experience, the University of Adelaide asked Keith to apply for a role to set up its radio station Department of Adult Education community radio station VL5UV - now Radio Adelaide (an independent community station).
This year marks 40 years since he appeared on Channel 7's State Affair. Again it was serendipitous - he was only meant to be on it as a fill-in guest host, but ended up in the main chair for more than three years.
Postcards, a much-loved travel show on Channel 9 - was also out of left field. What started as a pilot was a show that ran from 1995-2011 and spawned interstate spinoffs.
He juggled it with breakfast radio 5AA with the legendary Tony 'Pilko' Pilkington from 2000 and finally hung up the headphones in 2013.
It was surprising how handy a law degree could be in broadcast - he understood how the legal system works, how the parliament works and how to avoid a defamation suit - thank heavens for the seven-second delay.
Drumming has always been a part of his life, having learned it from his father, who played in a country band. Keith learned the Military two-step, the waltz and the Queen's waltz, and has kept his dad's bass drum with a South Seas Island scene on the front of it in his office.
Keith took those skills into the bustling post-World War II jazz craze, which had hit the university. There, he was involved in the University Jazz Club, where they often filled the Refectory or Union Hall with 500 people.
"I was getting organisational skills, but I was also listening to all this fantastic stuff," he said.
One of the bands he became involved in was the Campus Six - comprised mostly of graduates who could no longer be in the university's student jazz band.
"That became a band that went for 20 years and played all the big balls, marquee shows and Adelaide Town Hall," Keith recalled.
"I've always played above my station; I'm the bloke up the back hitting things, and there's this wonderful personalised concert going on in front of me. Thinking about it, I've been doing that for 60 years."
But those formative times have endured; he's now a patron in the Jazz Archive of South Australia and numerous other musical groups, has been in several ensembles and Fringe shows, and is part of the Adelaide Music Collective's South Australian Music Hall of Fame.
Looking back, a nice thing that's happened is a revisiting of things he'd done at university. He recalled going through one of his CVs he'd produced for an event.
"One of them read something like, 'Keith spent an extraordinary amount of time in the Union Hall and in the Refectory playing jazz or being involved in writing and appearing on stage in comedy reviews and drama and so on. And somehow managed to get two degrees along the way.' And it's not a bad description really."
Find out more about Ride with Keith on Facebook.
Keith Conlon will be a special guest speaker at a wellbeing expo in Salisbury on October 5, 2023.
It forms part of the local council's Be Active - Find Your Why physical activity inspiration project.
The day starts with Moving and Grooving and contemporary dance classes, music by DJ Des, and a presentation by Rod Quintrell from digital care platform Sonder and Walking SA on the benefits to mental wellbeing from moving. From 1pm there will be a walk with the Heart Foundation and Walking SA, a Ride with Keith dubbed Cycle Salisbury with your own bike and helmet, shadow boxing and chair exercises.
Lunch will be available, with bookings needed in advance.
The expo runs from 9.30am-3pm at the Jack Young Centre, 2 Orange Ave, Salisbury SA 5108.
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