Martin Wesley-Smith, AM, is a man of extraordinary contrasts.
A person who is equally at ease strumming a banjo or composing a complex piece for seven harps. A musical genius who delights in both the serious and the absurd.
His three passions in life are music, fighting for the plight of the East Timorese people and exploring the nonsensical works of English author Lewis Carroll.
Hailed as the father of Australian electronic music, he has composed everything from playschool tunes to operas and everything in between.
Martin Wesley-Smith now calls Kangaroo Valley home but his role as one of Australia's leading composers has taken him around the world.
After completing his doctorate at the University of York in England he became the Head of composition at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, a role he filled for over 25 years.
He founded the first electronic music studio at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 1974. It was here that he experimented with the pioneering computer music equipment, the Fairlight CMI and gave his students the unique opportunity to experiment on Fairlight’s revolutionary digital sampler.
He also helped set up China's first electronic music studio.
He has inspired a whole generation of Australian musicians, including composer Elena Kats-Chernin and conductor Simone Young.
Martin attributes his musical creativity to his early years.One of four boys born to Sheila and Harry Wesley-Smith, he grew up in the sleepy reaches of Adelaide in a home where music was an integral part of life. One of the family's favourite pastimes was to gather around the piano and sing in six-part harmonies.
"In retrospect it was the best music education I could have had," Martin said.
It was that same love of music, fostered in the family home, that led to him enrolling in Adelaide University to study composition.
Along with his twin brother Peter, who went on to become professor of Constitutional law at the University of Hong Kong, they were able to dodge being drafted in the Vietnam war through their studies. It was during this time that he fell in love with the works, and nonsense, of Lewis Carroll.
The interest is shared with Peter, who writes the words for his pieces and coincidentally their enthusiasm was sparked by the same book - The Annotated Alice - detailing the concepts and ideas behind Carroll's work.
Both brothers unknowingly bought the book within weeks of each other in their undergraduate years. Many of Martin’s pieces, including Boojum, were directly inspired by Carroll’s work.
While Martin struggles to name a main mentor, it's his mother Sheila who was formative in encouraging his musical career.
She presented the much-loved ABC program Kindergarten of the Air for many years and passed away in 2010, just shy of her 94th birthday.
"If I've done something I really like I'll often think to myself, I'll tell mum about that, and then I realise that she's gone," Martin said.
Having grown up in a household where he was encouraged to speak out if he felt strongly about something, his involvement and passion for social justice has intertwined with his musical career.
The plight of the East Timorese people has been a long-held passion and he has composed many pieces that were inspired by personal stories of people surviving the Indonesian invasion in 1975. Former East Timorese president Jose Ramos-Horta described Wesley-Smith as a "model political artist" for his moving compositions.
"He is a true creator, activist and humanitarian. He and his brothers are treasures of our country," Ramos-Horta was quoted as saying in 2008.
Some of Martin's most powerful compositions have intertwined his love of music and sounds with his desire to help the East Timorese people.
Quito, a documentary music drama with text by Peter Wesley-Smith, has been called his magnum opus.
Its subject is a young East Timorese refugee, Francisco Baptista Pires ("Quito"), a sufferer of schizophrenia who was found hanged in a Darwin hospital. The score uses a recording of Quito singing one of his own songs.
Another composition, Welcome to the Hotel Turismo, starts with the sound of breaking glass and was inspired by an article about Jaoa Pereira, who had worked at the Dili hotel since Portuguese times.
The piece is a journey through sound of the 24 years of Indonesian occupation. His work is now being archived by the National Library of Australia and National Film and Sound Archive.
He has been the recipient of many awards, including an AM (Member of the Order of Australia) in 1998 for services to music, as a composer, scriptwriter, children's songwriter, lecturer, presenter of multi-media concerts and a member of various Australia Council boards and committees.
His friend of 16 years, Peter Stanton of Kangaroo Valley, has worked with him closely, both as a member of the Thirsty Night singers and in the East Timor Remexio partnership, a social activism group that was formed after the slaughter in East Timor in September 1999.
"I have a lot of respect and love for him. He is someone who is an enormous musical talent and has a great capacity to get things done.
“He has been able to use his music as a tool to make these powerful statements that ought to be made," Peter said.
Whilst he has been battling cancer for the past seven years, defying his doctor’s prognosis that he only had 12 months to live when first diagnosed, he has continued to compose music.
His most recent commission is for a string quartet piece for the Musica Viva 2019/2020 season.
Listen to Martin Wesley-Smith’s White Knight and Beaver and For Marimba and tape: