A legal battle over the estate of late legendary Australian surf photographer Marty Tullemans has ended, with the courts finding a mysterious 2019 re-drafted will ‘invokes suspicion’ and isn’t authentic.
When Tullemans passed away in 2020, an official 2013 will appointed his stepdaughter, Tamar Tane, as executor, leaving his entire estate, worth $625K including $379K in cash, to be shared equally among three siblings and her.
Nothing was left to his sister, Maria Shaw, who claimed to have discovered an envelope marked ‘powderkeg’ containing a 2019 revised will locked away in a safe. The discovery was made while cleaning the late photographer’s cabin, and by some divine intervention this left her the lion’s share of Tulleman’s estate, and just $50K to split between the four siblings and $50K to Tulleman’s brother.
Tullemans is a legend of Australian surf photography, capturing the evolving culture through its most eccentric and explosive eras. Here’s an excerpt from our earlier coverage for more background:
‘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.’
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.’
Court documents filed by Shaw claim that Tullemans had written a new will prior to his health deteriorating, which was witnessed by Shaw’s late father and the photographer’s neighbour, Deborah Philllips. Shaw’s son, David Shaw, signed an affidavit stating he was instructed by Tullemans to write down the 2019 will and keep it confidential.
Shortly after Tulleman’s passing Shaw sought a grant of probate from the Brisbane Supreme Court, and Tane disputed the 2019 documents validity, claiming the 2013 drafted will was Tulleman’s final wishes.
The Brisbane Supreme Court ruled in favour of Tane in December 2022, noting how the discovered documents were ‘clumsily’ written and certain factors ‘raise suspicion’.
Firstly, the 2019 will was discovered by the main beneficiary, Shaw, and was almost entirely drafted by her son with a ‘Prepare Your Own Will’ pack. The will included an odd letter typed on a computer that assures the photographer is of sound mind, and describes his brother, Frank Shaw, as an ‘asshole’, and Maria as ‘deserving help’.
‘Frank has a history of plotting and scheming. He extorts every cent he can from situations,’ the letter purportedly dictated by Marty Tullemans stated, according to News.com.au. ‘$50,000 is far more than he ever deserves as he doesn’t need the money at all; and he is an “asshole”. Mary my sister is a nurse, and she supported my father at her home … Mary deserves help and she has two children that would benefit greatly. I definately [sic] do not want 1 cent to go to the courts. Please take heed!’
Not exactly the formalities of a traditional will to outline an individual’s posthumous wishes.
Another dubious factor is the 2019 letter makes mention of the estate of Tullemans’ father, who didn’t pass away until 2020. ‘If this … was drafted in 2019, why does it refer to the estate of a man who did not die until May 2020,’ Justice David Jackson said.
Tullemans made no mention of the 2019 will during a meeting with his solicitor in 2020, and no other evidence showed him discussing it with anyone after it was made. The neighbour, Phillips, wasn’t present when the document was drafted, and signed as a witness afterwards without reading it. She didn’t even know the document was a will.
Justice Jackson raised other concerns regarding thedocuments validity. Tullemans’ former partner’s name, Barbara, was misspelt a number of times in the letter, despite being spelt correctly in Tullemans’ hand-written correspondence. Grammar in the letter also shared a resemblance with how Maria Shaw writes, with a space between a final word and a full stop, despite claims it was written by her son.
A document examiner also suspected the document showed signs of forgery, with a signature appearing to have been traced and ‘the retouching appeared to be careful and painstaking’. In other words
Justice Jackson ultimately found Shaw to be a ‘disingenuous witness’, with more interest in ‘filling any gaps in her story than in providing real evidence’. He ruled in favour of the 2013 will.