Written by Kerrie Alexander
The only thing I knew about Max walking into this interview was that he is a proud Army veteran who bravely enlisted to fight for the freedom of his country.
A poster boy for an Anzac Day edition of the magazine.
However, the angle of the story quickly changed after finding out what this cheeky, charming, funny yet terribly pained 80-year-old had endured over the course of his life.
His wife of 28 years, Lynn, had an equally traumatic story to tell about her earlier years.
So, it was clear that the story had to become about two troubled souls who found each other and found freedom in their life through the Army, poetry, Toastmasters and their undying love for each other.
Max was born in Crookwell, New South Wales, in 1943 where he lived with his parents and brother in what he called ‘one of the most dysfunctional families he had ever seen’.
The stories of emotional and physical abuse on the two boys were horrendous.
“We were neglected. They would have taken us kids away these days,” Max said.
“We didn’t have a toothbrush between any of the family, we slept on bad bedding and my mother and father used to whip me.
“We used to have to sit in a back of the ute in the pouring rain and mum and dad would drive around.
“We got up to all sorts of mischief with mates and did all sorts of crazy things. I was out of the house at 6am in the morning and I was out until the streetlights came on.
“I think I had such a terrible home life that I acted like a clown when I was at school.”
As soon as he turned 17, Max enlisted in the Army, along with his brother, but unfortunately this mischievous personality led Max to have a chequered career only reaching “to the dizzy heights of Lance Corporal” in the nine years he served.
A love of the ladies was also a big weakness with a couple of stints in the Army prison for going AWOL, opting for dates instead of work.
However, the Army did give Max the freedom to be himself away from abuse and neglect, he was taught rules and regulations, found fitness and said he loved the stability the services offered.
“The structure helped,” Max said.
“I preferred that than living at home.”
Max started his career at the training grounds in Kapooka. Seventeen was the earliest age you could enlist and Max was the youngest in his unit. This earnt him the nickname ‘Junior’.
Prior to being posted to 126 Sig Squadron he trained in morse code along with many other skills, his career ended when serving at 5 Sig Regiment in Melbourne.
Max’s memory has faded now but he was able to demonstrate Morse Code for me with ease.
“Once you hear it all day it’s like birds sing it and dogs bark it. You would go to bed thinking it and breathing it,” Max said.
“You would sit in the classroom all day with the headphones on learning it.”
It was only six weeks before deployment to Vietnam that a 21-year-old Max endured a horrific car accident that almost took his life.
He spent five months in hospital with plaster from head to toe with broken bones and serious injuries sustained from a guidepost spearing him through the bottom of the car.
“I really wanted to go to Vietnam and was devastated that I couldn’t,” Max said.
“My brother went and was a captain. I used to have to salute him.”
Only two weeks after being released from hospital the Army had Max back to hard core training exercises like running, jumping and crawling through trenches.
His body hadn’t recovered, and it did permanent damage to his muscles and ligaments and is one of the main reasons he now has severe osteoarthritis and is confined to a wheelchair today.
This sadly ended his Army career.
“I joined for the freedom; I left home for it! I loved the Army and if I hadn’t of had the car accident I would have stayed.
“I loved everything about the army. I loved the mateship and I lived for it!”
In a life filled with turmoil and grief Max found happiness and solace from a young age through writing poetry.
He said putting pen to paper was an escape from his terrible childhood, some sad but also some humorous times in the Army and tales of three failed marriages.
There are thousands of poems now proudly displayed in his writing folders.
“It lets you express yourself in a way that you can never express yourself with just words.
“I wrote my first poem when I was about 14.”
It’s a common bond for Max and Lynn who were members of the Hervey Bay Toastmasters Club for 14 years and 16 years respectively.
They both say it changed their lives. The confidence they gained helped the two “broken souls” come back to the land of the living.
Before a chance meeting with Max at a Gold Coast Night Club, Lynn was trapped in an abusive relationship that could have ended hers and her two children’s life.
She fled the relationship in the middle of the night and headed to the Gold Coast in search of a new life.
“I just grabbed a few things and shot through,” Lynn said.
On her first night out ever with work friends, she was sitting on a bus and noticed a tall, dark and handsome young stud dressed in a black leather jacket, black shirt and a gold necklace.
“He was the most beautiful looking man I had ever seen,” Lynn said.
“She chased me all over the Gold Coast,” Max said with a laugh.
“I was a country girl who had never worn heels before, and I was in absolute agony. When I looked over to the bar at the club we were at, I saw Max sitting there on a round stool so I walked up and wriggled my bum up on it.
“A bloke that good looking, I didn’t think he would notice me. But he did.”
Lynn and Max both believe it was fate that they met that night.
“It was destiny. I was in a prison with that partner for 14 years and to come across Max on the first night out, ever, was just fate!
“The both of us were very damaged. I had stopped thinking and just shut down from all the trauma. I was like a zombie with no emotions.
“We were both very damaged and needed each other.”
Their love got them through extensive counselling which gave them the ability to start living life free of suffering.
It also gave them the confidence to find a voice in Toastmasters. With more confidence Lynn went on to teach adult writing and poetry classes where Max was her star pupil.
“Toastmasters changed our lives,” Lynn said.
“I personally wanted growth growing up and I did everything I could to try and change that neediness and feeling of being unwanted.
“When we first went, we were both shy. Max wanted to vomit before each meeting. We just sat in the back for a long time until they said we would have to join if we wanted to stay.
“It took a very long time before we could stand up and talk but we did it. We both ended up as president.”
Twenty-eight years ago they even said “I Do” for real, as part of a special toastmasters wedding.
It started as a mock wedding to teach people how to write and present wedding speeches but Max didn’t hesitate when Lynn said “why don’t we do it for real”.
“A toastmasters celebrant conducted the wedding, with a number of the regions toastmasters clubs as guests and we got married out the front underneath the bougainvillea facing the beach at the old Pialba Hotel,” Lynn said.
“One of our toastmaster friends had a V8 Jaguar and dropped us at the door with all the people looking at us.
“It was a very special day.”
Lynn is now Max’s full-time carer and they are unfortunately no longer members of Toastmasters due to his decline in health.
However, their love story continues.
“I’m always happy, aren’t I darling,” Max said to Lynn with a smile.
“I’m always sick but I don’t sit here and feel sorry for myself I just get on with it. Being married to my old girl makes me happy.”