Watching the hectoring Max Moore-Wilton savage poor Mike Scrafton on telly recently, my mind went way back to 1981, or was it ’82. Max was a neighbour of mine in the Canberra suburb of Chifley.

Why he chose that location I do not know, but it was clear that it had nothing to do with affection for the memory of the man after whom the suburb was named. Max was just as innately pompous and arrogant then as he is now, but he had not yet been able fully to demonstrate the truth of that old maxim: ‘some men grow – others merely swell’. But he was working on it.

Max had a son aged around ten, as I did. Both were members of the local cub pack which used to meet weekly at a primary school in the adjacent suburb of Pearce. I can’t recall Max ever taking much part in its activities. Around this time the pack leader arranged a weekend camp at Camp Orana at Bundanoon. I went along with my boy.

To my and everyone else’s surprise Max showed up with his son. He did not seem at all chuffed to be there, so who knows what domestic crisis had caused his attendance. As the weekend progressed Max seemed well outside his comfort zone. Other parents [mainly women, of course] dealt with their slightly embarrassing roles with good humour and a certain amount of self-deprecation. There was soon something of a bond between the parents. Except for Max. Had we known him then as well as we do now, it might have been obvious that humility, an ability to laugh at himself and a preparedness to defer to others was not something we could sensibly expect of him.

Max was not prominent in yarning around the fire at night. Nor did he show willingness to do his fair share of mundane chores. Most of the mothers I spoke with considered him a typical male chauvinist. It was easy to see why. Perhaps it would have been different if he had been in charge – if HE had been Akela the Wolf, ‘the one who stands alone’. But that role was already taken, and by a rather attractive young woman too. Not much chance of Max taking any orders from her.

Anyway, the weekend passed until on the final day the kids were taken to inspect a dairy farm near Bowral. It had rained overnight so that the farmyard was, as dairy farms seem always to be, awash with a combination of mud and cows’ excrement.

Max’s son – a lively lad with some spirit – took the lead role in noisy chortling, focussing very closely – indeed, exclusively – on ‘shit’. The word ‘shit’, and its every variation, was chanted, sung and shouted about for some minutes, to the immense delight of the young villains, especially little Max. Big Max was not amused. ‘Stop that immediately’ he bellowed. None of the 10 year olds took the lightest notice. ‘Do you hear me; stop that I said’ boomed Max in an authoritative voice which should have told us fame and the top of the tree beckoned. No response.

Finally, Max the Axe bore down on his own son; ‘I have ordered you to stop that crudity – do as I say’ said Max. The boy looked cooly and insolently at the man who was to intimidate a generation of public servants. ‘Nah’ he said and ran away shouting ‘shit, shit, shit’. Half a dozen watching mothers rocked helplessly – and blissfully – from side to side, faces purpling from the mirth of it all. Max retreated. Nobody heard him speak again.

They used to say the best way to survive abusive, self-important bosses was to imagine them with no clothes on. But that carries a certain risk of distressing nightmares and would certainly do so were Max to play the starring role. So I offer to those still feeling intimidated by Max Moore-Wilton a more enjoyable alternative. Simply, imagine a very green Bowral landscape, a crappy farmyard full of boisterous, rude little boys and their giggling young mothers. Then picture the fearsome Max the Axe creeping away red-faced, silent and utterly defeated. It is one of my very favourite memories.

Peter Fray

72 hours only. 50% off a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

Our two-for-one offer with The Atlantic was so popular we decided to bring it back.

But only for 72 hours.

Use the promo code ATLANTIC2020 and you’ll get 50% off a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year of digital access to The Atlantic (usually $70). That’s BOTH for just $129.

Hurry. Ends midnight this Thursday.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

Claim Now