Is Martin Scarsden Inspired by a Real Journalist?

In Sundance Now/AMC+’s thriller series ‘Scrublands,’ Martin Scarsden is a highly revered and renowned journalist who arrives in Riversend to write a color piece about the aftermath of Father Byron Swift’s murders. When he gets convinced that there is a mystery about the priest and his crimes, Martin chooses to stay in the region and unravel what other journalists missed while covering Byron’s ambiguous life. Even though Martin works for The Sydney Morning Herald, an actual newspaper based in Sydney, finding the former in real life will be impossible. However, the character reminds us of the plights of journalists who walk toward dark avenues to uncover the truth!

Martin Scarsden: A Combination of Real and Fictional Experiences

Martin Scarsden is a fictional character Australian author Chris Hammer created for his novel ‘Scrublands,’ the source text of the series. Such a journalist is not included in the former or current employees of The Sydney Morning Herald. The name of the real-life newspaper is likely used in the series because the daily tabloid is owned by Nine Entertainment Co., the parent company of the show’s co-producer, 9Network. Having said that, the character is connected to reality through his creator, who is a veteran and award-winning journalist.

Let us be clear. Martin Scarsden is not based on Hammer. The events in ‘Scrublands,’ like the journalist, are fictional and never happened in the author’s life. Still, Hammer drew inspiration from his experiences as a journalist and foreign correspondent to create Martin’s backstory. “I am not Martin Scarsden! That said, there are certainly elements of his character [that are] informed by my past. For example, I did report from Gaza after Hamas took control and it was blockaded by the Israelis,” Hammer told Better Reading. In the series, Martin is presented as a journalist who doesn’t hesitate to put his life on the line for his work, just like his creator did in Palestine.

Like how Martin’s works brought down a corrupt Asian government, Hammer made a mark in international news coverage through his involvement in SBS’ Australian series ‘Dateline,’ which often focuses on developing and warring nations. However, several characteristics of Martin are unfamiliar to Hammer, mainly the former’s troubled childhood. “Martin’s life was quite traumatic, whereas mine was boringly suburban. I don’t have post-traumatic stress, I have been married for 21 years,” the author told The Guardian. Hammer filled those parts of his protagonist by interacting with his fellow foreign correspondents.

“[When] I traveled, I ran into people like Martin who were traumatized by covering conflict zones, and natural disasters like the tsunami in Aceh. If you are doing it all the time, it is going to mess you up,” Hammer added. These indirect encounters with PTSD helped the author to create Martin authentically. “PTSD is quite common, especially amongst photographers and camera crews, and not just from reporting on war zones, but also from reporting on major natural disasters. […] A dead child is very difficult to unsee,” the writer said in the same Better Reading interview. His words about seeing a dead child can be paralleled with an integral part of Martin’s storyline in the series.

Martin chooses to dive into the truth about Father Byron after seeing the dead body of Allen, who lost his father to the priest’s homicidal rage. Allen’s fate and his mother Kelly Newkirk’s helplessness convince Martin to remain in Riversend. His pursuit of answers is similar to the commendable works of several journalists who committed their lives to uncovering the truth about tragedies that shook entire communities. These individuals range from Christine Pelisek, who helped the LAPD with the case of Los Angeles’ Lonnie David Franklin Jr. AKA “Grim Sleeper,” to John MacCormack, the San Antonio Express-News journalist who solved the mystery behind the murders of Madalyn Murray O’Hair and her son and granddaughter.

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