The Last Goodbye

Australia’s beloved journalist takes a deep dive into one of the nation’s last taboos – death – as he plans his own funeral

Ray Martin: The Last Goodbye premieres Wednesday 14 August on SBS and SBS On Demand

Statistically speaking [1], Australia’s beloved journalist and 5-time Logie winner, Ray Martin, will be dead in 4 years. Actually, because he is male, take another 2 years off. That leaves a short window to plan his funeral and yet- has he done so? Alas, no. In fact, like most Australians, he’s barely given it much thought.

Returning to SBS with his new series Ray Martin: The Last Goodbye, Ray takes an investigative deep dive into one of the nation’s last taboos – and life’s only absolute certainty – death. The 3-part documentary series will premiere on Wednesday 14 August at 8.30pm on SBS and SBS on Demand.

As he sets about planning his own funeral in this series, 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?

From mellifluous Samoan lullabies to heavy metal mosh pits and explosive firework farewells, Ray looks into the nooks and crannies of Australia’s varying cultures and sub-cultures to decide on which elements he would like to incorporate for his own ‘Last Goodbye’

Like Ray, Australia’s largest age demographic, the ‘baby boomers’ are approaching the end-of-life cycle. They will reach the average age of death – 83 – before the end of this decade [1], a period academics are terming ‘peak death’. With our retirement-aged population expected to grow by 50% over the next 20 years [2], the conversations around our death processes, rituals and rights have never been more relevant or time critical.

Quickly discovering that most Australians don’t plan or even talk about funeral arrangements and only half have a will, Ray sets off on a quest to understand how we all approach death in our nation of differing cultures, religions and views and why it’s still one of our last taboos.

Ray Martin: The Last Goodbye is a poignant, revealing and, at times, humorous quest that will send Ray down the rabbit hole of dirges and vigils, cryonics and body composting, ancient rituals and inventive celebrations.

Throughout the series, Ray consults with Dr. Hannah Gould, cultural anthropologist and researcher in death, religion and technology, who acts as a touchstone for Ray as he considers his death journey.

During the series, Ray invites a group of friends and colleagues to join him at a ‘death over dinner’ party, to quiz them about their personal plans and attitudes around death. He’s joined by TV presenter, comedian and writer, Gretel Killeen, who began her TV career on Ray’s ‘Midday’ show in the 1980s, longtime friend and collaborator, landscape photographer and Christian, Ken Duncan, historian Santilla Chingaipe, political satirist Mark Humphries and comedian Alex Lee who all bring a range of generational perspectives to the table.

Ray Martin: The Last Goodbye allows our most beloved journalist and host to guide us through this conversation with his signature curiosity, compassion and sharp observations as he contemplates his own personal farewell.

SBS Commissioning Editor Bethan Arwel-Lewis said: “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.”

Head of Unscripted BBC Studios Productions Australia, Deb Spinocchia said:Ray Martin: The Last Goodbye 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.”

Screen Australia COO Grainne Brunsdon said, “This poignant series by the talented production team is an unconventional investigation into how our nation and its diverse cultures approach the topic of death. Ray Martin’s thorough exploration of this sometimes confronting subject is both insightful and educational. I’ve no doubt The Last Goodbye will inspire compelling conversations among Australian audiences and resonate globally.”

Ray Martin: The Last Goodbye is produced by BBC Studios Productions Australia for SBS. BBC Studios will be distributing the series internationally. Principal production funding from Screen Australia and SBS. Financed with support from Screen NSW.

Ray Martin: The Last Goodbye will be subtitled on SBS On Demand in Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean. All episodes will be available with audio description.

Ray Martin: The Last Goodbye premieres on Wednesday 14 August at 8.30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand. The three-part series continues weekly on Wednesdays at 8.30pm.

[1] Life expectancy, 2020 - 2022 | Australian Bureau of Statistics

[2] The Baby Boomer bubble is over, what’s next?