People who’ve only heard about Norfolk Island are in for a visual treat when award-winning TV personality Ray Martin and acclaimed landscape photographer Ken Duncan explore the former penal colony turned hidden tourist gem.
But Norfolk Island With Ray Martin, screening on SBS, isn’t just about the beautiful Pacific island. It’s also the story of two longtime friends and their shared passion for photography.
The documentary looks at the island’s gorgeous terrain, incredible flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the world, its extraordinary history and a unique culture with its own language.
As a local might say to a visitor, “Welkam to Norfolk Island. Wat a wieh yu?” (“Welcome to Norfolk Island. How are you?”)
Martin’s love of photography goes back decades to when he would take his camera everywhere as a reporter on shows such as 60 Minutes.
“Producers and cameramen would say, ‘Put the bloody camera down. You’re here to tell a story,’” he recalls. “I was a sneaky sort of cameraman and would get photos when I could.”
He’s become more serious about his craft in the past 10 years and has found the ideal location to hone his skills on Norfolk Island, which he first visited in 1980.
The Australian territory is located 1400km east of the mainland and is home to around 1750 residents, including the descendants of the Bounty mutineers who once lived on Pitcairn Island. Its stunning appeal has led to Martin returning again and again… and not just to take great photos.
“I’m a history nut,” he says. “If you love Australian history there’s nowhere in the world that can match Norfolk. We think we understand Australian history and that’s at our doorstep. I’ve been there a dozen times and I love to go back and think about what happened there.”
On the island, the pair also meet up with local photographer Zach Sanders, an underwater specialist. This was only Duncan’s second visit to the island. His quest to snare the perfect photo meant waking up before dawn most days, then travelling to various locations around Norfolk and even across to nearby Phillip Island.
“I’d never heard of Phillip Island before,” he says. “It’s an icon of Australia and people don’t even know about it. It makes the Pinnacles in WA look average.”
The friends are great admirers of each other’s work.
“I love watching Ken photograph and see how he does it and what he does,” Martin explains. “The more time I spend with him my respect goes up enormously.”
His mate returns the compliment: “Photos come out of relationships to people or places. One of the things Ray has is an amazing ability to put people at ease and be real with them. That opens him up to opportunities.”
Duncan sees a spiritual side to his work.
“My aim is to bring the beauty of creation to people,” he explains. “Hopefully, this documentary will give people a chance to really go below the layers and get a feeling of what Norfolk’s all about.”
“There’s a lovely phrase that sums up what Ken’s been talking about, the spiritual side of his photos,” adds Martin. “He says you put the camera down and shake hands with the country.”
As viewers follow the friends around the island, Norfolk Island With Ray Martin’s cinematographer Andy Taylor does a wonderful job showcasing the island’s breathtaking scenery, from its forests filled with Norfolk pines to lush green fields and pristine beaches.
He also captures special moments like Bounty Day, an annual celebration commemorating the arrival of Pitcairn Islanders in 1856, signalling the end of Norfolk as a penal colony.
Martin loves the island’s old-fashioned charm and friendliness.
“The fact that everybody waves at you when you’re in the car,” he says. “It’s what you do in country towns and on Norfolk.”
The island has also been home to some notable Australian identities, including pop superstar Helen Reddy and author Colleen McCullough. In a moving moment, Ray presents a rare autographed copy of McCullough’s 1977 novel, The Thorn Birds, to her husband Ric Robinson.
“I was in New York for the ABC and I went along to a press conference with this unknown writer who became, along with Bryce Courtenay, the most popular writer in Australian history,” he says. “She signed a galley proof for me before they printed it.
“It’s probably priceless, but it was no good to me in my library. Ric’s got such a collection and I thought it should go home. I felt like I was doing the right thing by Colleen to put it back where it belongs.”
Duncan and Martin hope Norfolk Island With Ray Martin will inspire more mainland Australians to come to the island and experience its many wonders for themselves.
“People need to go there and slow down,” Duncan says. “It’ll do so much for people to get them recharged.”
“The documentary is about finding yourself, realising where we live and what we’ve got at our doorstep,” Martin adds. “Norfolk Island is magical and up to now it’s been the secret jewel in the necklace of Australian tourism.”
Norfolk Island With Ray Martin premiered Sunday 17 April on SBS and is now streaming at SBS On Demand: