Elcho is off the coast of Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia. At the time, it had a population of about 1,400 Aboriginal indigenous people and about 40 outsiders, mainly Christian missionaries. Craighead took to life there immediately. “There were really great people working there, and a small town feel that I had not had being brought up in a city,” he says. “It also exposed me to a different culture, with a strong kinship system, and some wonderful Aboriginal people. I was even informally adopted into an indigenous family, becoming a son to Djuna Djuna and Dhangal Yunipingu.”
Although the church forestry project he had been sent to run did not thrive and he eventually recommended its termination, Craighead developed a strong connection with the local people. Sports were an integral part of the Island’s culture, and eventually, the YMCA there asked Craighead to become its first director of sports and recreation—a job where he put his football skills to use coaching local teams, umpiring matches, and creating other sports-related programs for the inhabitants. While there, he also arranged sporting camps to try and help youths who sniffed gasoline to get high—a common addiction on the island.
After several years on Elcho, Craighead relocated to Hong Kong and began work in Society of Stephen, a church pastored by two Americans, Rick and Jean Willans, that helped drug addicts come off heroin and commence a new life. These individuals were mostly members of Chinese Triads—known in the West as the Chinese mafia—who were involved in a range of criminal activities such as extortion, robbery, drug trafficking, and prostitution.
“There were some real success stories…. It was wonderful to see these people change—particularly when through prayer in tongues they were painlessly set free of heroin, which was killing them,” he states. “After withdrawal, they began the process of learning to live in the kind of loving family environment that we sought to provide. Many of the boys had run the streets for years without any real family other than gang brothers to anchor their lives. They needed to learn an entirely different way of living. Regular Bible studies, daily prayer, shopping trips to the local street market, soccer at the local field, church meetings, social outings with other members of the church, and learning how to deal with people without the use or threat of force, were part of it. In a way, this was also an introduction for me to understand the security measures needed for operations such as this.”
While engaged in this work, Craighead lived at the local Chinese YMCA, studied Cantonese at a Hong Kong college, and met his future wife, Sarah, in 1977. “She first came to Hong Kong when her dad was the Australian Trade Commissioner. We’ve been happily married for 33 years, and now have two wonderful children, Pip and Searcy. Sarah doesn’t sound Australian, and she doesn’t like football, which is ridiculous, but otherwise, she’s an okay girl,” he jokes.
After their wedding, Craighead ceased his full-time work with Hong Kong addicts and landed a job with Security Systems (Far East) Limited, where he was responsible for sales and marketing of electronic security systems. That led to a position with Hong Kong & Kowloon Wharf and Godown Company Proprietary Limited in 1981, where he spent a year as a chief inspector for proprietary security operations at the mixed-use Ocean Centre and Ocean Terminal in Kowloon.