Ray Martin is not dead yet, but he’s thinking about it on new SBS show

Death is the last taboo, but a new series, Ray Martin: The Last Goodbye, asks us to confront it.
Ray Martin Not Dead Yet. SBS.

Veteran journalist Ray Martin is celebrating his 80th birthday later this year and if statistics are anything to go by, he’s only got a few years left: the average age of death for Australians is 83.


But, hamming it up for the camera and rising like Dracula from a casket in a church full of mourners, Martin says, in the trailer, that he’s not dead yet. In fact, he’s still working hard, hosting this three-part documentary series, Ray Martin: The Last Goodbye, premiering on SBS in August.

As ‘baby boomers’ hit their statistical death dates, Martin tells us, ‘the next decade will see more deaths than at any other time in Australia.’ In fact, we’re about to hit ‘Peak death’.


Yet only one in five of us have talked to family and friends about how we’d like to be sent off. Even worse, only half of us have written a will to make things easier for those left behind. (Remember, even a scrap of paper signed and witnessed is better than nothing!)

Australia, we need to talk about it

Australia, we need to talk about it, is the central message here. As SBS Commissioning Editor Beth Arwel-Lewis says: ‘At SBS we aren’t scared to tackle those subjects that are sometimes provocative or difficult in our programming, so an exploration of death – one of our last taboos is the perfect subject for us to lift the lid on, and who better to take us into this world and get us talking and even laughing about death, than bone fide national treasure, Ray Martin.’

The series is produced by BBC Studios’ Australian production arm for SBS, with principal production funding from Screen Australia and SBS.

Read: Ray Martin: The Last Goodbye to be produced by BBC for SBS

Deb Spinocchia, Head of Unscripted at BBC Studios Productions Australia. said that the series ‘takes a candid look at the rites of passage after death; how we commemorate, celebrate and mourn the dead, what makes us as Australians unique in the world and how ultimately the options available to us are far more than we have ever considered.’

Ray Martin: planning his funeral

Across the episodes, Martin takes a deep dive into the last taboo, using the conceit of planning his own funeral, investigating various options and approaches, from composting to cryogenics and nude funerals.

As per the media release: ‘Ray discovers the trends, rituals, practicalities, and emerging tech around the way we lay ourselves to eternal rest. Meeting with morticians, medical students, undertakers and death deniers, Ray seeks to understand Australia’s relationship with death. What choices must be made along each stage of the dying act? Why do we choose certain ceremonies, songs and resting places? How do religions and cultures negotiate death differently? What options will open up to us in the future? And how much is it all going to cost us?’

In the case of one casket mentioned, a whopping $46,000. Surely there’s a better way?

Martin consults with Dr. Hannah Gould, cultural anthropologist and researcher in death, religion and technology, who acts as a touchstone as he considers his own ‘death journey’. He also invites a group of his friends and colleagues to join him at a ‘death over dinner’ party, where he quizzes them about their personal plans and attitudes around death.

These dinner guests include TV presenter, comedian and writer, Gretel Killeen, who began her TV career on Martin’s ‘Midday’ show in the 1980s; his longtime friend and collaborator, landscape photographer and Christian, Ken Duncan; historian Santilla Chingaipe; political satirist Mark Humphries; and comedian Alex Lee.

It’s a conversation worth having, even if it’s a little squirm-inducing. Like death itself.

Ray Martin: The Last Goodbye will premiere on Wednesday 14 August at 8.30pm on SBS and SBS on Demand, where it will be subtitled in Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean. All episodes will be available with audio description.

Rochelle Siemienowicz is the ArtsHub Group's Education and Career Editor. She is a journalist for Screenhub and is a writer, film critic and cultural commentator with a PhD in Australian cinema. She was the co-host of Australia's longest-running film podcast 'Hell is for Hyphenates' and has written a memoir, Fallen, published by Affirm Press. Her second book, Double Happiness, a novel, will be published by Midnight Sun in 2024. Instagram: @Rochelle_Rochelle Twitter: @Milan2Pinsk