After 40 years at the forefront of Australian television journalism Ray Martin’s first autobiography ‘Stories of My Life’ recalls the many stories, events and people who not only shaped his life, but the history of Australia and many of our lives.
The 63 year old started his career with the ABC in 1969, before joining the Nine Network in 1978 to launch 60 Minutes. After hosting high profile programs like Midday and A Current Affair, Martin quit Nine in 2009 to focus on other projects, like the recently released autobiography. Louise Beaumont speaks to Ray about his upcoming visit to Port Macquarie where he will be signing copies of his book.
> Ray, you’re coming to Port Macquarie to promote your book ‘Stories of my Life’ in May, what prompted you to start the autobiography?
I guess you can’t do it when you have been in business for five minutes, but if you have been there for 40 years like I have then you probably have a few stories to tell. My friends and family said I should write about my life now that I had slowed down, so that’s how the autobiography came about.
> Once you completed the book and you read it, what was it like to re-live such a big part of your life through all those stories?
It wasn’t therapeutic reading it but I did enjoy writing it. I have written all my life but nothing as long as this. When you write an autobiography – no matter who writes it, and whether you write it for the family or the world – it’s to put things that happened in your life into a time line. I had 10 years in America with the ABC and was their correspondent in the 1970s. Lots of things happened there that I do remember, but I had to stop and think … was that 1972 or 1979?
And that’s what you do. You think, wow a lot happened in that year, I went to a lot of places in that year or did I meet this particular president. I enjoyed that, and I also enjoyed talking to my sisters about our early life when we travelled around NSW.
I enjoyed the process and I enjoyed reading it, as it was a little bit of Australian history.
> How has the autobiography impacted on your personal view of your achievements and successes throughout your career?
I guess, like anybody, when you’ve reached your 60s and you write about your life, you suddenly see you have done a lot of things. It’s the same no matter who it is. That’s just a little reminder of your experiences and achievements.
I have been amazed by people who have read the book and simply say, “I can’t believe you have done all those things and been to all those places”. You suddenly add up 100 countries, over a million air miles, and about 10,000 interviews. I have a phrase I use often – that being a journalist is much better than working – and I thought, fancy being paid to go to these places, meet all these interesting people, witness amazing things like tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanos and see presidential elections.
It has just been a very privileged life and I have been very fortunate.
> As you have travelled all over the world to cover these stories and events, what would be your most memorable moment on the job?
I could give you a thousand memorable moments, Louise. Covering the tsunami in Indonesia in the Aceh Province in 2004 was the most horrific thing I have covered, but I also felt really privileged to tell the story of these lives and the devastation a natural disaster can cause.
The last interview with Don Bradman, and the last interview with Fred Hollows would be close to it as they were the two most remarkable men I had ever met. I got the chance to interview every prime minister from Sir Robert Menzies to Kevin Rudd, and every American President from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama in that period of time – that’s a great privilege.
I also interviewed a lot of unknown people who have done remarkable things.
> You mentioned that Fred Hollows was one of the most remarkable men you’d ever met, and you are also chairman of the Fred Hollows Foundation – why did his life make such an impact?
He was just a remarkable and inspirational man. Every time you thought that you were working really hard or doing enough charity work, you would run up against Fred Hollows – who was dying from cancer and a brain tumour, who had five small children, who was the boss of the ophthalmology department at the University of New South Wales, and still had time to be a bedside doctor caring for over 1,000 people.
He was a mentor and an inspiration, and still is. I must say that when I think I’ve done enough about something, I think of Fred telling me to pull my finger out and get stuck into it. He had a great saying that I have imprinted in my brain that says “the alternative is to do nothing and that’s not an alternative.” I say that to lots of people, including my kids, about various situations when they get tired and think something is impossible.
What he showed was the power of one. There were 1.3 million people with cataract blindness that can now see today because Fred Hollows had this vision of ending cataract blindness … and that was the power of one. Without him, it wouldn’t have happened. If you go blind in the third world, which was where these people are, you die because you are useless to the family and to the community – which results in you sitting in the corner and dying.
Fred Hollows just turned on the light and was able to do that, which is a reminder that we can all make a difference.
> Having interviewed so many influential people, what is it like to be interviewed yourself?
I prefer not. It is easier asking other people the questions and have them justify the answer. I found myself interviewing people about the republic, about the change of the flag and topics like this, topics about racism or sexism. It’s easier to ask questions than give answers. I have really enjoyed it.
What has been interesting about the response from people that have read the book, is they can relate to a lot of it. The most popular question from people who’ve read the book, is about the way we were and the innocence of Australia in 1940s-60s when we didn’t really lock the front door and we left the keys in the car and no one would rob us. Especially things like how we used to leave the milk money in the bottles on the front step in working class Australia, and no one ever stole the money.
Things like this just remind us about living in Australia and we were terribly innocent. So writing stories about times when my uncle used to chop the head off a chook at Christmas time and that was the only time we would eat chicken in Australia, and those sorts of things which were just part of life. When I wrote about that, I was just amazed with the number of people who would tell me they have experienced the same thing.
I keep saying that we are a much more interesting, much more colourful and a much more vibrant society now than we were in the 1940s-60s. Yet there was an innocence and decency that people recongnised about these times – when people read the book they see that, and refer to it and also comment on it. So that’s fun.
> Have you been to Port Macquarie before?
Yes I have. I spent about 20 years going to South West Rocks on holidays every Christmas, and we would duck down to Port Macquarie often to go shopping or get some of those wonderful oysters along the river there. I know the area well.
> What is the next chapter in your life?
I am back doing some television but I would love to write another book. I would love to write about Fred Hollows and, while there has been one book already written, I don’t think people quite understand what an amazing larrikin he really was and what an inspiration he was.
He passed away over a decade ago but I think a lot of people think he is still alive because of all the work the Fred Hollows Foundation does. So I would like to do that, and as I said, I enjoyed writing my book far more than I thought I would. But at the moment I am doing what I know best, which is television.
> What do you hope your book achieves?
People who have read the book have said – and it is the most flattering thing – that I wrote the book, not as an academic and not about broadcasting or the television business, but as telling the story of my life … and they could hear my voice telling the story.
That is really pleasing to know because I didn’t try to go out and write an academic book.
I am conscious and wanted to write something that had literary merit and wasn’t a rambling series of stories. So if people see that, enjoy it, get a laugh out of it and some memories, that is wonderful!
> Thank you Ray.