Cameron Buchanan tells a story that goes right to the heart of Queensland football. When as a teenager, he started at senior level with Windsor-Zillmere in 1987, he was the only boy in a family of three children, yet 36 years on he has two brothers-in-law, three nephews and two nieces and a large a group of pseudo brothers. All because of football.
His extended family is a by-product of a wonderful career at the often-renamed Eagles from 1987-99 which included 196 games, the 1991 Grogan Medal, two club best and fairest awards, two premierships, five grand finals, club captaincy and a prestigious Queensland State Player of the Year Award.
Son of long-time Caltex State Manager and Queensland football sponsor Alex Buchanan and his wife Alice, the smooth-moving Zillmere midfielder went as close to playing AFL football without actually doing it, as any Queenslander.
Born in Melbourne in 1969, he turned 11 in 1980 when his father was transferred to Brisbane. He played junior football at Aspley, representing Queensland in the Teal Cup (Under 17) in 1986 before beginning his senior career at Zillmere with three grand finals against Southport in 1987-88-89 for a loss-win-loss outcome.
“I was so lucky to be at such a good club at such a good time, playing under coach Wayne Brittain and captains Craig Brittain and Rob Dickfos in three grand finals in a row. The guys there taught me to play footy the right way and the Zillmere values played a huge role in making me who I am,” he said.
Buchanan was on the supplementary list with the Bears and played some reserve grade games in 1988-89. “I’m not going to deny I would have loved to have played at AFL level, but the reality is I wasn’t quite good enough and I’m comfortable with that”.
He was a standout at State League level, and in 1988 was among the younger members of the Queensland State of Origin side that played under coach Peter Knights and captain Zane Taylor at the Bi-Centennial Championships in Adelaide. In 1989 he was named Queensland Player of the State Series under legendary coach Tom Hafey after a division two carnival in Tasmania where the Maroons played three games in five days against the All-Australian Amateurs in Burnie, the VFA in Burnie and NSW in Hobart. Among his teammates were now brothers-in-law Andrew Martyn, a Zillmere clubmate, and Alister Gaw, then at Morningside. He also played state football at the Gabba and in Sydney, and finished with six Queensland ‘caps’.
Among the fancies for the 1990 Grogan Medal until ruled ineligible due to a one-word profanity aimed at a boundary rider, he won the QAFL’s top honour in 1991 playing for North Brisbane, polling 18 votes to beat Kedron-Grange’s Simon Kenny by five. He flirted with the idea of joining Central Districts in the SANFL but instead stayed in Brisbane to finish his studies.
He won his first club best and fairest in 1991 and in 1995 he won a second flag under coach Craig Brittain and captain Danny Dickfos. He was second to Dickfos for the Joe Grant Medal and kicked the clincher in a low-scoring affair.
“That was the highlight of my career. In ‘88 I was only young, and early on I just thought you always played in grand finals. But by 1995 I was a senior player and vice-captain and already starting to think about life beyond footy,” he said.
“So I was really committed, thinking it might be my last year, and so to play well in the grand final and win a flag with that group was really special.”
Always looking to life after football and having completed his ‘Professional Year’ qualifications with Ernst & Young,he took himself to London in 1996 for a mix of work and travel. It wasn’t the worst year to be away as North Brisbane went broke and most of the playing group joined Kedron-Grange.
“I remember getting a call from ‘Gonz’ (Craig Brittain) early in 1997 telling me he was putting the Eagles back together. I was coming home anyway but wasn’t sure if I was going to play footy again. But ‘Gonz’ was always very persuasive, and it was nice to come back to the old club,” he said, having run the London Marathon not long before his return. Super-fit, he won his second best and fairest despite missing the first six games.
He took over the Zillmere captaincy in 1998 where he was runner-up in the best and fairest as the Eagles lost the preliminary final to Morningside, and then again in 1999, retiring after they lost the grand final to Southport. He could have played on to reach 200 games, but he had other things to do. Like so many footballers, he never lost touch with his Eagles days. In what is an almost daily reminder, the two jumper numbers he wore – 8 and 37 – are part of his email address.
“He was a great teammate, courageous, with his ability to continue to work hard under fatigue was second to none. His last quarter in the 1995 grand final win over Morningside was a big part of a great win. He had a terrific balance between football and work which has helped him be very successful in business and set up a great life for himself and his family,” said Craig Brittain.
Ever humble but always driven, Buchanan completed a Masters Degree in Applied Finance on return from London, joined CPE Capital, a leading Australian private equity fund manager, and moved to Sydney in 2001. Twenty-two years on he is a Managing Director of the same firm. After six years in the NSW capital, he returned home and crossed the river to the western suburbs, where he got involved with the Kenmore Bears coaching eldest son Will and supporting daughter Madeline and youngest son Sam in their introduction to AFL footy.
In 2020, he and wife Shannon moved the family to Casuarina on the northern NSW coast. It’s a perfectly symmetrical family – son Will (now 20), daughter Maddie (16), son Sam (11) and daughter Claudia (8). Now semi-retired, he splits his time between family, work, his long-time passion surfing, and regular visits to the Tweed Coast Tigers, where Sammy plays, to the Lions, where he is mother is a Foundation Member, and whenever Will Martyn, son of Andrew and ex-Richmond AFL player now at Wilston-Grange, has a game on the coast. It’s a family affair. Always was, and always will be.