1944 - | Tasmania | Reporter & Presenter
No journalist bridged the worlds of journalism and entertainment more successfully than Ray Martin. He was a New York correspondent for the ABC, a star reporter in the heyday of Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes, hosted the television variety show Midday for eight years, presented the nightly news magazine program A Current Affair and hosted federal election debates and counts. He broke big stories and along the way collected five Gold Logies for the most popular personality on television. Martin had many imitators and but no peer in his combination of punchy journalism and popularity.
In April 1970, the world was gripped with a probable tragedy and an improbable international rescue mission. A bit like the horror of the teenage soccer team trapped deep in flooded caves in Thailand in 2018.
Back then it was the crew of Apollo 13. Only months after the triumph of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon – an amazing salutation to American technology and computer skills – a spacecraft blew up leaving three astronauts stranded in space and facing death. Forget kids in a cave. This was a quarter of a million miles from home.
The Tom Hanks Apollo 13 movie was accurate. NASA staff, and journalists at Mission Control in Houston, knew death was imminent.
As the world was gripped by the drama, the New Yorker magazine, one of the great custodians of brilliant cartoons, ran one of an American woman sitting in front of her TV and saying: “The astronauts are going to be OK. Walter Cronkite says so”.
Change the country from America to Australia and change the name from Walter Cronkite to Ray Martin and the message is the same. If Ray Martin says it is so, then it is so. As it was then, it still is now. If Ray Martin says it is so, it is so.
And, in this Trump-contrived world of supposed “fake news” that is an enormous compliment to pay a journalist. Ray Martin, justifiably, has been a role model for several generations of TV journalists.
Martin is a national treasure. He has won five Gold Logies. So well-known and respected (“Captain Have a Chat,” as his crew called him) that he could simply call his autobiography Ray. Like Madonna. Or Cher. Even Kim had to tag Kardashian to the end of her name for recognition.
My connection with Ray or Raymundo – nobody calls him Raymond except maybe his reprimanding Mum — goes back fifty years.
We were born in the same year: 1944. We both were posted, as brash, over-confident, young journos to New York. Me for Fairfax; Martin for the ABC. We both came home with, I suspect, some success but some regrets.
He went to 60 Minutes which I turned down, to my eternal regret, Peter Meakin. We both hosted Midday on Channel 9. We both hosted prime time national current affairs programs – Martin on Nine, Hinch on Seven and Ten.
Ray Martin has interviewed everybody from Lauren Bacall to Sir Donald Bradman, Robert Redford to Elton John and Jennifer Lopez. Even The Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs, in Brazil.
For years, king of the airwaves, Martin anchored the top-rating A Current Affair on Channel Nine. And hosted Carols by Candlelight. In mid-2018 he was in London covering the nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for SBS.
Apart from his journalistic exposés, there is his endless charity work with Indigenous groups, the Fred Hollows Foundation and Humpty Dumpty. In 2010, his high-quality journalism and that charity work were officially recognised with an Order of Australia.
Covering Fred Hollows for a 60 Minutes story about Indigenous blindness in 1981 had a massive influence on Ray Martin and he has spent decades since then working on Indigenous health issues. He wrote in his book: “ I first met Fred way out the back of Katherine… It’s when I first discovered that Aboriginal people are five times as likely to go blind as white fellas”.
Hollows and Martin became close friends and the journo was there, as a mate, when they buried Fred in the red dirt he loved on the edge of Bourke in 1993. Hollows’ work, treating trachoma in Indigenous communities and cataracts across Asia, goes on.
Martin has said it was “Fred’s political blowtorch” that ignited his passion for reconciliation which, he said, had “lain dormant” during his decade as a foreign correspondent based in New York. “After meeting Fred, I would spend the next three decades trying to get Federal governments to deliver social justice to Aborigines, not just lip service”. That passion remains today.
Another passion, apart from his wife Dianne and children Luke and Jenna, is photography, which he has also had published.
Martin’s autobiography was described as “funny, thought-provoking and inspiring – the most compelling autobiography you will read this year”. The Sunday Telegraph, in his home town Sydney, said “every chapter will leave you smiling”.
To call Sydney his hometown is a bit of a stretch. As his book shows, he had an impoverished childhood and had lived in 13 different places in three states before he reached high school. Most of that living was in the bush, which explains his lifelong passion for outback Australia.
He has written: “Give a boy his first formative years in the Aussie bush and the bush has him forever”. A violent, drunken father finally forced Martin’s mother to uproot her family, Ray and his sisters, and flee to the East.
To be there to honour Ray Martin as an inductee into the Hall of Fame was a genuine honour. The man is a gem. One of the best. Ever.
Derryn Hinch is an Australian Senator for Victoria.
Ray Martin and Bob Hawke. Courtesy of Fairfax
Ray Martin and Jane Fonda. Courtesy of Fairfax
Courtesy of Fairfax
The 60 Minutes team: Ray Martin, George Negus, Jana Wendt and Ian Leslie. Courtesy of Newscorp
Ray Martin moderating the 2001 election debate between PM John Howard and Kim Beazley. Courtesy of Fairfax
Ray Martin and Michael Parkinson. Courtesy of Fairfax
Ray: Stories of My Life, Ray Martin, William Heinemann, 2009
Ray Martin’s Favourites – The Stories Behind the Legends, Ray Martin, Victory Books. 2011