Wayne Ludbey reflects on his life in photography and sees himself as the kid in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory who won the golden ticket.
It was a ticket that took him Kingswood College across Australia, overseas - and even into the winners' circle at Ascot with the Queen - and now into the Tiger Army as Richmond Football Club's official photographer.
In the film, the ticket granted the bearer the golden chance to make his way through life. With Ludbey, the ticket came in the form of an Olympus camera, three lenses and flash, loaned to him by a family friend in 1980, while he was still in school.
It changed his life. He used it to complete his VCE examination but, more importantly, it gave him direction, launching him into a life-long career as a newspaper photographer, with a particular focus on sport. "I always was interested in photography, but that camera got me going," he says.
Once Ludbey had completed work experience at the Herald and Weekly Times, he was bitten by the newspaper bug. "I enjoyed the whole newspaper vibe. It had a good feel about it. It as exciting and I took to it and really enjoyed it," he says. "I've been lucky. I've met a lot of good people, worked with a lot of talented people and I've had a great life in the industry; it is more a lifestyle than a job."
Ludbey joined Richmond about three-and-a-half years ago, and covered the pre-season competition before COVID hit. The pandemic sent Richmond into a hub on the Gold Coast while Ludbey was stranded in Melbourne.
"Last year and this year was the first time I had a really good run at it," he said. "Jack Riewoldt, Dusty Martin, Trent Cotchin and Tom Lynch couldn't have been more welcoming. They are just a really nice group - and three premierships helps. Damien Hardwick is an absolute ripper. A good person, loves his players and will do anything for them."
Being part of club such as Richmond, gave Ludbey a different perspective. "In the media, you always are on the outside looking in, but when you actually are at the club, you are looking from the inside," he says. "I really have enjoyed seeing how they train and all the strategies and tactics that they put in place.
"I've been overawed by how hard they train. They're like thoroughbreds. They are prepared to win - both physically and mentally. What has surprised me is how little day-to-day media affects their experience. In the media, you think you have some sort of presence, or bearing, but in fact it is not the case at all.
"Things move so fast. Win, lose or draw they're on with the next week, training and recovering and organising the next games. There isn't all that much time for reflection or self-analysis."
He also been impressed by the performance of the women's teams over the last five years. "The Richmond girls are very much trailblazers. They are creating history. There are moments along the way where you see how much they have inspired other young girls. [Club president] Peggy [O'Neal] is very proud of them.
Ludbey's photos are used on the club website and social media, as well as some newspapers. He also supplies photos to the players and their families so they have a record of milestone games and club events, and to the sponsors.
"It's nice to be part of the Tiger Army. to go along for the ride and enjoy it," he says, after the relentless pressure of daily newspaper deadlines.
"I think people outside of the industry don't realise the pressure you're under on deadline. The competition between newspapers in those days was fierce."
Ludbey started at Standard Newspapers in 1981 as a cadet photographer in Cheltenham. "My first job was real estate. It was a very hard job. You would spend two days photographing upwards of 60 houses around the eastern suburbs but it was a lot of fun and a good way to learn.
He joined The Age in 1984 where he worked for nine years before joining the Herald Sun in 1993. He spent 24 years on the Herald Sun as a photographer and pictorial editor.
"I loved going out on assignments and meeting different people everyday. You might be photographing ordinary people one minute and state premiers or prime ministers the next."
Ludbey remembers the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 vividly, with its death toll of 173. Disasters of this scale test the fibre of both photographers and department heads.
"Papers come out seven days a week and as pic editor I was responsible for around 35 photographers," he said. "You try to get the best service for the paper but that is balanced by the need to keep your people safe.
"I remember going into the office on Saturday night and basically I was there for two weeks straight.
"It was a very sad time for Victoria but it was important that it was reported properly.
"Being in the field with the high number of deaths was a traumatic and emotional experience. A lot of photographers were deeply affected, but it didn't hit them until a couple of weeks afterwards. It was something like post-traumatic stress, although we didn't know too much about it back then. There was a period where they were incredibly flat for about four weeks.
"Towards the end, there were photographers that I just had to drag out. They were so dedicated they wanted to see it through, but after two weeks they had to come home and rest. They were just running on adrenalin."
Another catastrophe that stays with Ludbey is the terrorist attacks on America on September 11, 2001. "We had put the paper to bed, then we saw the television footage of the planes going into the twin towers. We headed back to the office and worked all night and into the next day."
As a photographer, he covered various sporting tours in Australia and overseas. "I did a number of Davis Cup ties and got to know Pat Cash well. A really nice guy," he says. "This led to doing Wimbledon and I was at the first Wimbledon Roger Federer won in 2003.
"While there, I went to Ascot. An Australian horse, Choisir, won the King's Stand Stakes. Afterwards I'm with the Australian owners and the Queen in the mounting yard at Ascot - which is incredibly cool."
Ludbey also covered the Australian cricket tour of India in 2004, in which Shane Warne broke Murali's Test wicket record, as well as Australia beating India for the first time at home in 28 years. "It was probably the best moment of my career. Back in the rooms they were all celebrating. It was a moment I'll never forget."
He remembers Warne fondly. "He always went out of his way to make sure you got the best photo. In Chennai, he took me into the Australian dressing room at the start of the Test series and said. 'This is my mate, Wayne. Can you look after him', which he didn't have to do. He was an incredibly kind person.
"If Warnie hadn't been in the Herald Sun for two days we have to come up with an idea for him. He wanted to do a picture with a snake charmer, and the snake coming up from the basket as he played a flute. It proved to be incredibly difficult and he was greatly disappointed when I told him we couldn't do it."
Ludbey flew to Canberra often on political assignments, and developed an affinity with then prime minister Bob Hawke. "He was the most wonderful person and very kind to me as a young person starting out," he says. "I flew up there once to photograph his grandkid's birthday party at The Lodge as a favour to him. He was an incredibly humble, nice person and a lot of fun.
"I was in Canberra when Hawke lost the prime ministership to Paul Keating. He had been up all night trying to get the numbers. I photographed him the next day in his study by himself. I ended up doing a big photo of him with all of his staff the next week when Keating took over. I was just a young guy and Hawke sort of went out of his way to look after me. He was a good guy."
Even though Ludbey loved the romance of the dark room when he started out, he is happy with the technological change that has transformed the industry. "I love digital. I don't miss the old chemicals and couriers losing your film," he says. "I love being in control. You can take the photos and download them. It's so good, so quick."
It is a long way from the Olympus loaned to him by his father's friend, Gene Swinstead, a newspaper executive at HWT who died at the end of last month. " I don't think he ever got it back. It got all the creative juices going. I fell in love with photography and I'm very much indebted to Gene for that."