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Family feud over deceased photographer’s estate

The family of the late legendary Australian surf photographer, Marty Tullemans, are in a bitter court dispute over the money left in his will, after an envelope labelled ‘Powderkeg’ was discovered with an updated but potentially invalid version of his will.

Marty Tullemans with a rather archaic water housing.

Tullemans passed away in December 2020, aged 68, after a long health battle leaving $625K, including $379K in cash, to his estate.

In his early 20s, the Queensland-based photographer documented the 1970s surf scene, which was brimming with eccentric and explosive personalities, including Tullemans. His talent behind the lens and access to reclusive surf stars like Michael Peterson landed him work with Tracks Magazine, Australia’s ‘surfers’ bible’. As the surfing world outgrew the 1970s counterculture and formed into a big colourful industry in the 1980-90s, Tullemans was the Gold Coast’s go-to lens man.

Legendary Gold Coast surfer, Michael Peterson. Photo: Marty Tullemans.

‘Whether it was in the water shooting, or on the beach, you couldn’t miss him. Tai Chi poses between sets, bright wetsuit ensembles, oversized hats, coloured zinc… paddling out and shooting Kirra from longboards and kayaks. Marty not only captured the energy and colour of those halcyon days on the Gold Coast, he also fuelled them,’ wrote surf journalist and editor, Sean Doherty, for an obituary in Surfline.

‘While Marty was a great photographer, like many of his kind he was a lousy businessman. He’d live shoot to shoot, shot to shot, cheque to cheque. He’d famously pile his images into his car and hit the road, selling his wares to publishers, surf companies, even printing up images and selling them to individual surfers. The travelling salesman inside him would always have an exclusive. After Cyclone Yali in the late ’90s he pitched an exclusive shoot of giant Snapper Rocks, which after some negotiation I managed to secure for Tracks. Only problem was when the other surf mags came out the same month, Marty’s shots were in all of them. Marty however, by his nature, was the kind of guy who was impossible to get mad at.’

Doherty states that Tullemans, like many other great photographers, didn’t cross the digital divide and when he passed away he left behind an archive that ‘captures the most colourful and vibrant era in Australian surfing’.

Tullemans’ stepdaughter, Tamar Tane, is the beneficiary and executor under his 2013 will, which leaves his estate to be shared equally between his late ex-partner’s four children, with nothing left to his sister, Maria Shaw.

Shaw, however, claims to have found the ‘Powderkeg’ envelope containing a 2019 will, which left her most of the $625K estate, sealed in a safe shortly before Tullemans’ death. Although Tane is challenging this, with her lawyer highlighting the 2019 will was signed under ‘suspicious circumstances’.

According to court documents, Shaw claims that before Tullemans health deteriorated and he was admitted to a nursing home, he had written a new will and left it in his safe, which she discovered in 2020. The new will had been witnessed by her late father, as well as the photographer’s neighbour and friend, Deborah Phillips. Shaw’s son, David Shaw, signed an affidavit stating he was instructed by Tullemans to write down his 2019 will, saw him and the two witnesses sign the document, and was instructed to keep it confidential.

The 2019 will leaves Tane $50K to divide with her siblings, and 50K to Tullemans’ brother, leaving the rest to Shaw.

An iconic photo of Peter Townend, who described it as the ‘one shot of my career that’s followed me everywhere’ It first graced the cover of Tracks Magazine in April, 1976. Photo: Marty Tullemans.

Although Phillips, one of the witnesses, filed a statutory declaration stating she didn’t witness Tullemans or his father sign the form. Instead, she claims Shaw invited her to dinner in November 2020, just before Tullemans’ passing, and was told to sign a form.

While Shaw denies this, Tane’s lawyers assert the 2019 will wasn’t therefore signed in the presence of two witnesses bringing the documents validity into question. A judge has ordered Shaw disclose copies of text messages between her and Phillips, and all of Tullemans’ mobile phones and computers.

It’s quite a sad story when families fight over a deceased estate, and hopefully once it’s resolved and the legal fees are paid there will be something left.

One Comment

  1. Graham Cassidy Graham Cassidy January 20, 2022

    So very sad. Marty does not deserve this family mess up. He was true to himself, true to brilliant surfing activities, a man who gave so much to the sport including innovations! He will not be forgotten!!!!!!!!!!!

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