BAccording to his own description, Ray Martin has been a journalist for “well over half a century”. That tenure included multiple stints on A Current Affair, the work that made him a household name, as well as spots on everything from ABC’s Four Corners to First Contact on SBS. Along the way, Martin has won five Gold Logies and an Order of Australia for his work.
Last month, the media star unveiled a new documentary, Norfolk Island with Ray Martin, which is now airing on SBS On Demand. He sees Martin travel to the beautiful island with landscape photographer Ken Duncan in search of the perfect shot. Getting behind the lens is one of Martin’s passions – in fact, he owns more than half a dozen cameras and an archive of around 60,000 photographs.
Here, Martin tells us why he came to prefer photography over writing, as well as the story of two other important personal effects.
What I would save from my house in a fire
I spent my early childhood moving from town to town across New South Wales. In all, it was 13 cities before I went to high school. My dad was a mechanic and worked mostly on dams, which for some reason was a booming business after WWII. Packing our family’s world into a collection of suitcases meant that toys, personal effects and especially books were mostly left behind. So there are few things from my childhood that I would unfortunately miss if a fire broke out.
Except, perhaps, for a collection of poems by AB Paterson, my first Christmas gift book. I still have it. It is filled with amusing pages of verse from The Banjo, published in Sydney in 1955. I cherish this dog-eared and tattered literary classic that has somehow survived my itinerant wanderings, tucked away with my shirts and under – childhood clothes. It was given to me by a young English migrant named Eric who came to stay with us for a few days, became my friend and ended up marrying my sister, Joy.
Perhaps the fact that I never grew up surrounded by books explains why they clutter up my office, bedroom, and media room today. Many of them are original signed editions. But it was the Banjo collection, with the faded dust jacket, that I would almost certainly grab as the flames licked the stairs behind me.
My most useful item
Having been a journalist for more than half a century, I owe my “fame and my fortune”, dark as they are, to the words I wrote. Or spoken. Or jotted down on misplaced slips of paper when I ran out of a notebook.
But these days, I think I prefer taking pictures. That’s why my cameras are my most useful item. I probably have half a dozen, maybe more. Without exaggeration, I must have 60,000 photos in my personal collection.
If, as the cliché says, a picture is worth a thousand words, then no snapshot I’ve ever taken is as good as my best thousand-word essay. Or column. Still I find my camera more satisfying – even therapeutic – than writing. Nowadays, with digital cameras or cell phones, it is also instant gratification. Click on. Fact. And with photos you set your own bar. If you’re happy with the image, well, it’s your art after all!
The object I most regret having lost
I most regret losing my… virginity. I laugh. But now that I have your attention, there’s an item I’m sorry I lost.
When I first graduated as a journalist, in my ABC youth – in the 1960s – I was sent to Perth as a reporter. My girlfriend, who became my fiancée and is now my wife of 50 years, accompanied me across Australia. We had no money and even borrowed from the credit union for our wedding. Now, as we were planning our nuptials, a colleague from ABC made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Almost.
He was going to London to try his luck with the BBC and had a car he wanted to give me. Well, he actually wanted 1,500 pounds for that. But it was definitely a giveaway at that price. It was a British racing green Cooper Bristol two-door tourer he had found in a farmer’s shed and restored to perfection. Constructed of aluminum, it had survived birds’ nests and the elements. Only 1,500 lbs.
My future wife issued the ultimatum: her or the Cooper Bristol. All these years later, I truly regret losing this classic British tourer.