He’s one of SA’s living treasures, a wonderful old gent who has spent the past half century or more documenting life in SA as it is, as it was and as it could be. Max is now 90, a journalist by trade, a charming witty story teller by nature. I had the very genuine privilege of catching up with Max for an afternoon chat.
Leigh: Max, it’s lovely to be here.
Max: Well it’s lovely of you to come.
Leigh: Max, tell me about your writing, I mean you’ve written for so many years about so many things, what sparks the inspiration in you?
Max: Well I think it’s a love of reporting, it’s a love of the adventure of life, and it’s a love of the human race whatever good or bad things are, because I’m a reporter.
Leigh: Now you’re still writing a regular column for the Advertiser, and I have to say as a sprightly young thing of 90, I’m amazed that you have the energy, and the passion and frankly the clarity to still write as beautifully as you do.
Max: Well that’s kind of you to say that, but it all goes back to the love of writing which is an instinctive thing, they tried to make a farmer out of me (Leigh: Didn’t work?) No, and half the Adelaide Plains blew away.
Leigh: One of the things I think too, when I read your columns, you have a really lovely way I think of taking all of South Australia back too, not necessarily better days, but days that I think we’ve forgotten about, some of the very simple pleasures.
Max: Well, our life is filled on what goes before us. I mean you have great cities, and you have the great developments, look around but the whole things changed, you don’t want that to be developing and spoiling. You’ve got to be very careful with the division between the two. And this state is huge and it’s rich in the past, as we hope it will be in the future, and there are remarkable stories there, in little towns, in tea meetings, in strawberry fetes, they might seem inconsequential now, but they were part of life, they were a little bit of the building brick that made a society.
Leigh: What are some of the things that you most remember, that have really hit I suppose a chord in your heart as you’ve watched Adelaide and South Australia develop the way it has?
Max: I think it’s been a fundamental thing that however we change and sometimes we change, there are bad things there’s a dark side of society but I also think, what it’s taught me that there’s a lineage of remarkable people among the ordinary people.
Leigh: Why move from prose into poetry?
Max: Well I’ve always loved it. Because I think what a modern poet, whatever form of poetry you use – it says in a few words what can be said in prose takes a lot more. It’s the music and the rhythm and the beauty of words.
Leigh: So there is music in poetry isn’t there?
Max: Of course there is. Whether its blank verse, whether its rhyme, you look at Shakespeare, you look at Banjo Patterson, and the Ballardists, you can hear the Man from Snowy River galloping over the Range.
Leigh: Absolutely. Now Max tell me, how often do you write? Is it something, do you get up every day and go, okay today I’m going to spend ‘x’ number of minutes of hours writing, or is it as the whim takes you?
Max: As the whim takes me…Because they’ll be different things that spur me, and I seize on everything. Because if you’re a writer and if you write poetry every person is a character you meet.
Leigh: You must have the most extraordinary memory? I mean because quite frankly I can barely remember what I’ve done yesterday some days but you have such a sharpness and clarity.
Max: I think it’s a selective memory because I forget lots of things, I forget where I put things like that. But the things of life, your minds a tape recorder, I mean, they boast about the internet but we’ve got the most marvelous internet above our eyebrows.
Leigh: You’re not a fan of new technology are you? You’re still tapping away at that type writer.
Max: Yes. Well we’re old friends. You know, and I feel at home. It’s a part of the extension of me. I write about it, I call it Ivan the Imperial. (Leigh: That’s right) And people they’re fascinated by it. One child came and said “whatever is it Daddy?” He said it’s a typewriter dear.
Leigh: Of all of the things that you’ve written; and it’s a bit of an unfair question because it’s like asking a mother to pick a favourite child but, is there a body of work or a book or a poem that you actually go that was the one?
Max: Well when it comes to books it’s ‘The River Kings’ because I love the Murray. One of my books ‘Chase thru the night’ Nicole Kidman played the lead, she was 16. And I remember it was written in her contract that she had to be, as it is with juvenile actors that she had to be gone with her lessons. She was lovely, she was tall and leggy and lovely, and beautiful (Leigh: What a wonderful accolade for you work.) Yes, she was just… marvelous. And there were some fine Aboriginal actors in it. Because I always say I love this country, and I always say the Aborigines understand the poetic brink between the reality of landscape and its spirituality. And this is where I belong. A lot of people want me to go & work elsewhere. This is my place.
Leigh: And I wonder, how many words do you think you and Ivan the Imperial have shared over the years?
Max: I think we’ve served millions of words. And I’ve written 28 books for children, I’ve written hundreds of columns, I’ve written lots of things for people who are doing family things and they write, look we’re having a wedding, I know I shouldn’t ask you this and you’re a famous writer but do you think you could write something for so-&-so’s wedding.
Leigh: So you’re happy to share?
Max: Oh yes, I do. I think it’s wonderful. The only gift I’ve got is that one. I mean if I’d been in business I would have been bankrupt, if I’d been as I said a farmer the whole countries rural economy would have collapsed.
Leigh: And when you look at your writing, you’ve written an extraordinary breadth of material from very serious works, through to romances, you’re a bit of an old romantic I think Max, and children’s books, now why write for children?
Max: Because they’re the most challenging audience in the world. And I’m very fond of them, and they’re fond of me, but let me tell you, children are critics and as one child said “Dear Mr. Fatchen, I quite enjoyed your last book, but I think you could do much better. (Leigh: (laughing) thank you) but I think you’re quite promising.”