If there is one thing Ray Martin can say about his career, it’s that no day has been the same.
Martin may be one of the country’s most decorated journalists, but the five-time Gold Logie winner, Member of the Order of Australia and Centenary Medal recipient is as approachable as they come.
Relaxing in his Mount Coolum holiday home, Martin is on cloud nine. He has recently taken some time off work to go on “baby watch” with wife Dianne and daughter Jenna in Sydney, and welcomed his first grandchild, a boy, into the world.
The Martins are no strangers to the Coast, having spent many holidays for the past two decades at Coolum before deciding to buy a house near the golf course at the base of the mountain.
“It’s a wonderful country town and you get the best of both worlds in the sense that it’s nice and relaxed – you can get around in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and people say g’day and no one bothers me. I like the pace. I like the climate. There’s nothing not to like,” he tells MWP.
Martin, who received a star on Caloundra’s Walk of Stars in early 2007, was born Raymond Grace and grew up in a nomadic life with his three sisters and a drunken and abusive father.
When he was 12 years old, his mother left to escape the cycle of debt, alcohol and homelessness and they assumed the surname Martin to prevent their father from finding them.
Martin went on to work as an engineer before leaving the industry to study history at the University of Sydney. It was in his fourth year of a teaching degree that he “jumped the fence” and joined the ABC as a cadet journalist in 1965.
It was a decision that changed the course of his life and led to a career that spanned 52 years, has had him travelling “a million-odd” air miles in more than 100 countries to interview 10,000 people “in round figures”.
A few years after joining the ABC, Martin was posted to New York as its correspondent and covered anti-Vietnam War protests, presidential elections, and the Olympic Games among other news and current affairs. He moved to Channel Nine in 1978 to work alongside Ian Leslie and George Negus on the launch of 60 Minutes.
When he and Dianne had their first child, Martin was working away up to four months of the year and he decided to take on a new project, Midday with Ray Martin, which was a world-first 90-minute live show filmed in the middle of the day.
He later moved on to anchor A Current Affair and left full-time television in 2011. Martin now takes on passion projects as they arise and will feature in his first major photographic exhibition in Ken Duncan’s Sydney gallery this month, while continuing to make regular appearances on The Project and gearing up for his next TV venture – a show titled Next – where he will interview the who’s who of the science world in a question-and-answer-style program that focuses on “where the world is going”.
He is also in the middle of writing a book about the late Fred Hollows, the celebrated humanitarian who set out on a quest to restore sight to those who are needlessly blind in developing countries.
Martin says Hollows is among his “holy trinity” of icons he has connected with throughout his career.
“In the more than 10,000 interviews in my career, my top shelf is Fred Hollows, Sir Donald Bradman, and David Attenborough”
“They are beyond question the leaders of their fields. I have done 30 shows with David over the last 40 years and as a cricket nut, meeting Don Bradman was like going to heaven. To get the last interview with him was more than that. He was an exceptional character and there is no doubt that he was the greatest cricketer and also an extraordinary man.
“Then there’s Fred. He’s at the top of the chain.”
Martin first met Hollows while working for 60 Minutes in 1980, when Hollows was finishing The National Trachoma and Eye Health Program in the Northern Territory with his wife Gabi.
Martin was there to do a story to raise awareness about the terrible living conditions and eye disease in rural and remote Aboriginal communities and Hollows was unimpressed when he arrived a few days after the rest of the film crew, and by chartered plane no less.
“So you’re a f****ing superstar, eh?” were the first words Hollows said to Martin.
Not to be deterred, Martin carried on with the interview and by the end of the piece, the two were fast friends.
“He could be gruff and argumentative and in the next breath he would have the best bedside manner,” Martin says. “He had this innate sense of humanity and was a truly decent person. He was complex, and we got on like a house on fire.
“For all of his bluntness, he was a caring person. He was close to a saint… a very profane saint. But he has had a huge influence on my life.”
Hollows would often reach out to Martin to promote the tireless work he was doing around the world and Martin accompanied him on some projects.
“[Hollows] said the one thing that separates human beings from any other animal on this planet is the capacity to care. He lived by that mantra and it is very hard not to be impressed by him,” Martin says.
“He was a doer and despite all of his responsibilities, with a wife and five children, and the reality that he was battling cancer and was dying, he still managed to care and make time for other people.”
Hollows gave his last interview to Martin and they spent the last days of his life together. Before he died, Hollows asked him to be the first chairman of the foundation.
“I don’t like boards and I told him it’s a waste of time. But it was very hard to argue against Fred, who was doing more than anybody else at the time,” Martin says.
So he took on the role for 10 years and helped raise the much-needed funds and support for the foundation’s first work in Eritrea, Nepal and Vietnam.
“If you don’t have dreams, the world is a pretty boring place. Fred was a great dreamer, researcher, doctor and scientist and his big ideas have benefited more than two million people around the world and that number will continue to grow.”
While everything he needs to write a book about Hollows, which has been contracted by HarperCollins, Martin says he “keeps delaying”.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever missed deadlines and I feel guilty,” he admits.
Although Martin will leave the Coast just before Coastrek (a fundraiser for the Fred Hollows Foundation) arrives for the first time in the region, he encourages people to get out and support the event and the priceless work of the foundation.
“You would feel lucky enough to live on the Sunshine Coast, so you’ve got to give back,” he says. “Just $25 will give sight to a person, so avoiding that extra cup of coffee or that second dish on a night out will make the world of difference to someone.”