The five places that made me: Ray Martin



I was the ABC's North American correspondent during the 1970s, a decade of extraordinary social and political turbulence. New York City was itself an inherently violent place: along with Detroit, it was "The Murder Capital of America". About 2200 people were killed there a year. There was a real element of danger in the streets, subways and boroughs like Harlem and The Bronx that you didn't go to if you were white. Yet New York also felt like the epicentre of the earth and life itself. Walk into a bar and you could see everyone from Sinatra to Muhammad Ali. The locals loved to say, "If you leave NYC, you go bush!" That was true.


All up, I spent more than a year of my life in this enchanting America's Cup capital, covering the yachting races during the 1970s and Alan Bond's historic victory for Australia in 1983. My wife and I stayed in this old colonial seaport and summer watering hole of America's wealthy for about three months at time. We also visited in autumn, the magnificent New England "fall", as Americans call it, when the rhythm of life changes as dramatically as the colour of the leaves. It was real, earthy Middle America – which New York is not – yet sophisticated and filled with culture.


In 1973, Istanbul was the most different, exotic, exciting place I'd ever imagined. There was an element of danger – even in the daytime with the cacophony, the overcrowding and pollution of a huge, congested city, where street merchants shouted at each other in a strange tongue – behind the blackest eyes I'd ever seen. I no longer felt in charge of my world, as I did in New York, London or Sydney. I was culturally and physically out of my comfort zone and I loved it, from the incessant bargaining and arm-twisting of the Grand Bazaar to the Muslim mystique of the Blue Mosque, down the grimy side alleyways and into smokey coffee shops. I found it both enchanting and confronting. And just a bit scary.


I went to live in Tasmania when I was 13, where I stayed for the next five years. It was the most stable time of my childhood, the perfect safety net and incubation for adult life. A safe, comfortable regional city, Launceston was small enough to be recognised but big enough to disappear. Here, I was the first in a working-class, fifth-generation Irish, Catholic family of more than 250 people to go to university. Launceston gave me the foundation and confidence to jump into life, to have a go at anything and everything.


Having planned on a career teaching modern history at university, I was well-read – I thought – on the Romanovs, Rasputin and revolutions. The truth is, the wealth and extravagance, the style and symmetry, the palaces, public buildings and mystical Orthodox churches left me gobsmacked. I was almost as impressed by the elegance and beauty of the locals – lean and well-dressed, colourful and friendly – when I had expected a staid, down-trodden, KGB-riddled, borscht- and potato-eating populace. Wintertime, icy footpaths and 15 degrees below means the tourist hoards are missing, but visit in early February, especially if you love taking photographs.

Ray Martin is hosting Aperture Australia, the country's first and only immersive photography conference, at Sydney International Convention Centre, April 28-29. See