Ray Martin is passionate about photography. Photo: James Boddington
In some quarters, such as the one inhabited by John Safran (more on him later) and the Q&A tweet mob, Ray Martin is occasionally derided as a punchline.
For the best part of two decades, when TV, and the Nine Network in particular, truly was the biggest show in town, Martin was its ubiquitous jack of all trades.
With his implacable and unruffled presence, common touch and ability to seem intently in the moment, Martin had a rare ability to segue from the serious rounds of 60 Minutes to the variety-show offerings of Midday, from hosting the sideshow vaudeville of A Current Affair (ACA) to the cheesy Carols by Candlelight.
Ray Martin's World
In the backstreets of the Bronx while chasing colour for a '60 Minutes' profile story on their hometown hero, Jennifer Lopez, I came across an alley full of redheaded lingerie mannequins, all neatly tethered at the ankle. Not something you'd see often in suburban Sydney.
The founding producer of 60 Minutes, Gerald Stone, once told him he was the rugged team's ''all-rounder''. Some might see that as a backhanded compliment. Martin doesn't.
Over a long lunch at MoVida Aqui, it doesn't require much prompting for Martin to recall a joke at his own expense: a newspaper cartoon depicting a TV repairman bent over a blank screen. ''There's nothing wrong with it'', the repairman tells the lady of the house, ''Ray Martin's on holidays''.
We gladly take up the waiter's offer to choose tapas-style, share dishes for us. During the next two hours we are treated to a selection of house specialties, which includes delicate tostada covered in a baby sardine and avocado puree, King George whiting with samphire and asparagus, quail and the piece de resistance, chilled macadamia nut soup, a tribute to the southern Spain summertime staple, cold almond soup.
Venado. Photo: James Boddington
What's often forgotten by those who scoff at Martin's over-exposure and poster-boy ascendancy at Nine was his previous decade at the ABC. Martin had his sights on becoming a history teacher, before jumping the fence to the ABC in 1965.
Although he admits he had reservations about hosting Midday - ''It wasn't quite the spats and top hat, but it was that sort of feeling'' - he says in hindsight some of his best political interviewing happened on that show.
His 1989 interview with the beaming Bob Hawke and a clearly festering Paul Keating was a riveting expose of their unravelling relationship, mainly told through body language and shifty glances.
Tostadas with baby sardines. Photo: James Boddington
''They [guests] had time. They let their defences down a bit,'' he recalls.
''You can do [a variety show] and not necessarily be seen as 'no longer a journalist'. I think if you do it with some class, some grace, you can get away with it.''
Would that include putting his dance steps to the test, as Kerri Anne Kennerley famously did when she performed the macarena with then federal treasurer Peter Costello?
King George whiting with samphire and asparagus. Photo: James Boddington
''No,'' Martin emphatically replies.
As well as filing stories for 60 Minutes and the occasional spot on the ABC's Q&A panel, Martin has spent much of his recent time revisiting his childhood passion, photography.
A large-format book of photographs, Ray Martin's World, was recently published and he has plans for more. The book is a selection of the estimated 50,000 photos, despite savage culling, he has in his collection, photos that go all the way back to 1969, when he arrived in New York as a 20-something foreign correspondent. It's a snapshot of Martin's peripatetic journeys and many defining events and people of the recent past.
A self-taught photographer - ''Like Ian Chappell said about batting, the more I practise, the luckier I get'' - Martin is generous in acknowledging the influence upon him of photojournalist Steve McCurry, whose iconic Afghan Girl was published in National Geographic, and Australian landscape photographer Ken Duncan.
Next month, he will have a chance to watch his hero McCurry in action, when he visits Malawi in south-east Africa, where McCurry has been invited to document the first general election since 2000.
For Martin, it's the stories behind photos that make them important.
''There's a shot of the steeple of St Paul's Church in New York between the original Twin Towers. I'd done a story there for Four Corners on the most powerful union in America called the Local 3. We were there before the Towers opened. I didn't know I had that photograph. It's not a great photo. It's just that the story that goes with it is so memorable.''
In other cases, the memories are of a more personal nature. Martin was in New York in 1971 for the Fight of the Century between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.
Forty years later, walking past the famous Russian Tearoom with his daughter, he saw the tottering man with his nurse. ''I'd been there for that extraordinary moment when he took on Nixon, the world, had become a Muslim, the most glorious sportsman I'd ever seen. In some ways, it's what I hark back to in the book, that it's only after you've been doing this for 45 years that you witness that cycle of life.''
One of his favourites is a photograph of an old man with his horses in Ireland. ''Growing up in the bush in Australia, that [could have been] my father, because my mob came from Kilkenny in 1834. One, a policeman, went to Hobart, and one, a convict woman, to Sydney. Different ships, same year … What struck me about that photo taken in 1970 is what I remembered from the late 1940s: men who wore the one suit and one tie to church, to the funeral, to mass. It was a back-to-the future image.''
He implores people to document their lives. ''Write your family histories. Get your photographs off the computer. Print them. Leave them for your kids and grandkids and don't just put: 'Auntie Ann at Cottesloe Beach in 1956'. Put 200 words on where she came from. This is why I wrote the book.''
He regrets that he was unable to document his own family history in this way. After his grandmother died, ''various family scavengers came and took the photographs they wanted and erased the family album effectively. For future generations, we won't have it.
''I'm hoping people will pick up their cameras. They don't have to believe they're Steven McCurry to take photographs. Just get them off the computer, print them, write 100, if not 1000, words and tell the stories, because it's going to be vital in this age of instant information and instant images.''
His other regret is not asking the celebrities, heads of state and newsmakers he has sat across from for a photo. He particularly regrets not photographing Audrey Hepburn, Don Bradman or the craggy-faced Fred Hollows.
''I thought: 'Don't be a goose. You're a reporter. Don't compete with someone who knows what they're doing.' All those people who came on Midday … 'Do you mind if I take a photo?' They'd have all said yes.''
Years after his incendiary encounter with Safran, Martin is no closer to forgiving him for what he says was ''a pissant thing to do at the time''. Filming a pilot that never went to air, although the segment made it onto other ABC shows and YouTube, Safran turned up at Martin's home posing as a TV news reporter.
What was intended to be a stunt exposing the questionable methods of foot-in-the-door shows such as ACA, which Martin at that time presented, turned ugly when Martin's temper flared. Martin admits he lost his cool, but calmed down when Safran, realising the skit was backfiring, pleaded with Martin.
Unbeknown to Safran or the public, a week before that, guards had been called to Martin's house after a death threat in the wake of an ACA story about marijuana trafficking.
This is ''context without giving an excuse'', Martin says. ''[ABC chairman] Brian Johns apologised to my wife, sent a bunch of flowers and said … it wouldn't go to air. Three weeks later, it did. I put my hand up for being thin-skinned about these things, because in this business there are cheap shots and what you throw at people you should cop, but it was just singularly unfunny to come along.
''I thought it was The Footy Show doing something. Andrew Denton tells me I'd like [Safran], but I don't think so. He's a serial pest.''
On this occasion, it seems Martin gets the last word.