Dave Knight
Wed, June 1, 2011 at 12:00
Stephanie Hunt

Errol Gray, aka the Backyard Balladeer, named Dave Knight the most interesting and talented person he knows.  Dave designs Errol’s album covers Errol still can’t understand is why all that talent hasn’t made Dave rich.  I’m off to find out.

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Cheering on Dave Knight

I knock on the door of Dave Knight’s Boambee home.  When no one answers I call to the shadow I can see sitting at a desk inside, “Dave, is that you?”  Suddenly a short, somewhat dishevelled man jumps from behind the desk exclaiming “Oh dear, I completely forgot.  Oh no, I haven’t showered or changed.”   He hustles me into the kitchen, introduces me to his wife Linda who is busy cleaning and rushes off to get changed, returning momentarily looking pretty much the same as when he left.

I warm to Dave immediately, largely because he reminds me of Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit – short, cherubic, greying curly hair.  He settles down over a cup of tea at his kitchen table, while Linda continues to clean, tossing in comment and corrections from time to time.  As his story unfolds it becomes apparent that Dave is a battler; an underdog who has been knocked down by life and struggled to get back up.  I warm to him even more and find myself cheering him on, wanting him to succeed.  Like a good Hollywood movie Dave delivers a happy ending, but I shouldn’t give it away.  Let’s go back to the opening scenes.

Dave is musician, artist and animator - not what he planned to do when he grew up.  “I just found a passion for it.”  But this local Coffs Harbour boy started getting his knocks early failing both art and music in high school.  “They were expecting landscapes and bowls of fruit,” he explains.  “I made this intricate manuscript that was made by an ancient race and I illustrated it all with its own language.  It just didn’t fit the curriculum.”

Undaunted by the school’s inability to recognise his talent, Dave turned to music, scratching out a living playing with rock ‘n roll and jazz bands in local pubs and clubs.  In an effort to make some real money, he and a mate formed a kids’ act called Rocky and Bullwinkle and started creating puppets for the show.  Dave and his puppets were spotted by a Channel 10 executive and he was asked to create puppets for TV commercials.  “Puppets were all the rage,” he exclaims “We even won an award!”  Dave was on his way, the puppet work kept coming, he started doing voice work and presenting direct to camera.  And then the work dried up, almost overnight.  “Aggregation came in.  Everything was recentralised.”

Dave’s answer was to buy a computer – a 486 with 4mg of RAM.  “I thought this is unbelievable!  I could do all these graphics.”  It was the age of Jurassic Park and Dave persuaded Linda that they should borrow $1300 from the bank to buy 3D animation software, this could replace his puppets.  “I didn’t realise what I’d gotten myself into,” Dave sighs.  “I sat at home and installed it and I couldn’t make it work.  I sat there for 3 years.” 

Now he says those years of painstakingly teaching himself to use the complex 3D software were the making of him, but at the time it was terribly difficult.  The TV stations didn’t want to know him, but eventually he side-stepped them and started making commercials direct for clients.  He also got work writing software reviews for Pixel Magazine, which kept him learning.  “We were making really good money,” Dave says.  “I just kept honing my techniques.”

Dave was on his way again.  But he found himself getting tired and moody.  He wanted desperately to create a TV series but the dream kept eluding him.  He finally had a series accepted, and after completing three episodes was told that funding with withdrawn.  He felt he’d lost his one big chance.  “Even my mother was starting to doubt me,” he says.  “I was contemplating giving up.  I thought I’m never going to do it.”  Then he landed in hospital.

Dave hadn’t been feeling well for awhile, but he was afraid to see the doctor just in case it was bad news.  As it turned out he had a hernia, and by the time he was sent to hospital, it was a strangulated hernia requiring immediate operation.  Complications followed the operation, and blood tests revealed that he also had a severe case of type 2 diabetes that had gone untreated for years.  He was a mess!  It took three years for him to recover, by which time he had lost all of his clients, his entire livelihood.

Now this is the part where I really started cheering.  Because he didn’t just lie down and accept defeat and life on a disability allowance.  He laboured away in the bedroom of his tiny house in Sawtell.  “There was a long slog of constant trying.”  But he slowly got a few clients back.  And then he sent some political cartoons to ABC’s Q&A program.  They were accepted and started to air at the end of each episode.  “All of a sudden this explosion,” Dave enthuses.  The producer of 4 Corners contacted Dave, the Comedy Channel wanted him to do a series, Channel 10 started to call.  “This little guy who was locked in his bedroom for so many years, no one wanted to talk to me, all of a sudden I was getting emails from all over the world.”  At this point I have to give the man a hug!

I’d like to type “The End” but of course it’s not.  No doubt there will be more challenges ahead, but in the meantime Dave says, “Life’s gone from being a struggle to an absolute pleasure.”  He has almost finished producing his first contract for the Comedy Channel, another contract is pending and he has more TV commercial work that he can keep up with.  The family has moved from their cramped Sawtell home to a 1.5 acre property in Boambee.  With his diabetes now being treated, Dave says he’s never felt better. 

I head home feeling jubilant and our unexpected hero heads back to his computer.  Cue credits and applause.

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Here's one of Dave's political cartoons.  Click here to go to his website and see more.

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Dave says Jimmy Trifyllis is the most interesting person he knows on the Coffs Coast.  Dave and Jimmy used to play in a band together 25 years ago, and after years working as a photographer for the Telegraph Jimmy’s move back to Coffs and he and Dave are playing together again.  “He’s met everyone you could possibly think of,” Dave says.  “Some of his stories….”  Can’t wait to hear them!

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