Max the Builder – before and during the war, and post war plans
Dad signed up in 1930 and 1937 for the Militia (each time for 3 years). The Militia was similar to the present day Army Reserve. During these years his occupation was shown as clerk or salesman, but at the time of enlisting he was a ‘contractor’. From his letters, and from other comments such as that made in The Footsoldiers that he was ‘a builder from way back’, it is probably fair to assume he was a building contractor. We were certainly told as children that he had been a labourer on the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne during the Depression. This was most likely in 1928 and 29, the two years after he left school.
References to his building work before and during the war, and to his intentions post war are contained in letters including the following:
5th September 1940 : I’m sure I paid for the plan and although plans even when used remain the property of the architect I never anticipated any trouble there….. In the second matter, …… If I remember correctly I agreed to put a path two feet wide from the kitchen door to the laundry door but ….
14 October 1940: That house you mentioned in Courtney St is reasonably well built. Cook built it. It should be a good letting proposition…(Sounds like his father had asked his opinion re a possible investment property)
25 March 1941 : I had a letter from Mick Mason the other day. He said he’s been out to see you …. Both your letter and his say that building is booming in Hobart and that the paper works are very busy. I think I’ll be looking for something other than building when I get back….
22 May 1941 : extract from Diary entry of May 20 : Cleaned up pit – stacked ammo in corner – Walked to jetty – about 2 miles – and carried timber up – borrowed hammer, new nails from engineers – made two beds – put in shelf – much more convenient – roomier.
5th June 1941 : Building business must be booming at home and the local areas seem to be benefitting a lot. I’ve seen some wonderful ideas here (when I went AWL) and hope to use some of them when I get back.
24 September 1941 : A rather humorous aspect of army life happened last Tuesday when armed with picks and shovels we were marched a mile or so from the barracks to an olive grove where we were given a lecture by an officer in all seriousness on the elementary use of the pick and shovel and the methods of using same and digging various types of defences. This is after we’d dug half of England up, undermined the desert and dug thousands of defensive pits in Syria – and when he called on me to give a demonstration well that was the last straw
11th July 1942 : I’m in charge of a little job that calls for a rather practical application of wog methods of construction but neither I nor the blokes with me are very partial to the task. We have to build a kitchen oven with all the appointments of a set-in cast iron stove out of mud and straw, and although we’ve all watched the wogs, the job of creating draft and flu etc is a rum ‘un
2nd August 1942: …we’ve got platoon cooking arrangements now – have established our own kitchen and of course muggins had to make another wog oven. We used an old badly busted tank for a frame and a six inch pipe for a chimney. She looks like an old railway engine and when we lit up everybody stood clear in case she took off. When the clay started to dry out she set up about a dozen little hot water springs. The other one is quite a success – the sergeant cook swears by it and we’re hoping this one will be even better.
23 May 1943: …of an evening the sergeants have been working making a log hut near the mess. It took quite a while getting started as everyone thought he knew more about it than anybody else – of about forty sergeants in the battalion, thirty nine wanted to be the architect and quite a lot of officers volunteered advice. However eventually we got it pegged out and the walls are taking shape. We worked on all yesterday afternoon and most of today. I’m putting in a big rock fireplace and I think it’s going to be extra good.
30 May 1943 : We went to work again yesterday afternoon on the log cabin and have got it well on the way to being finished now. My fireplace is coming up extra well but am held up for sand at present. I’m going to pitch the roof as soon as Church Parade’s over and by the end of the week she should be finished.
6 June 1943: Work on the log cabin has been going on well. The roof was nearly finished when I left on Wednesday morning so they should be in in the weekend. My fireplace came up quite well. I put in three big concrete pipes to make it draw and am anxious to hear how it goes.
27th June 1943 : I think I told you earlier that the officers were building a log cabin similar to ours. I should have said of course that they were having it built because except for our Lieut none of the officers have done a tap. Jim, Kong Young and Johnny Black have been doing the sides. The job couldn’t have been going fast enough for them because on Tuesday night the boss told me I wouldn’t be going on the three day stunt that started on Wed because he wanted me to get the pit finished. He left me the three that had been working on it and a couple of other chaps and by dinner time yesterday the job was finished except for malthoiding the roof and taking the boxing out of the chimney. Of course when we built our cabin we had to scrimp and scrap for everything we wanted and we had hell’s own job to get a truck to get stuff but anything I wanted for this job I just collected the money from the RQ, got the duty truck and went and got the stuff – no trouble at all
4 September 1943 : It wouldn’t surprise me at all if that rumour about nationalising building is tried out but it will never work. Imagine the cost of building a house with CCC labour – you’d get a prefabricated dump that’d last about eight or ten years for what a brick place would cost under ordinary conditions
31st August 1944 : You might ask Rob, Mother, if there are any courses on building – not just trade courses but contracting and estimating and that sort of thing that I could do by correspondence as I’d like to spend my spare time during the next twelve months getting up to date so that I can get going as soon as the show’s over