OBITUARY: by John BallantyneNews Weekly
Max Teichmann (1924-2008) - Writer, academic and raconteur fondly remembered
, December 20, 2008
Max Teichmann (1924-2008) has died.
Obituary by John Ballantyne
, editor of News Weekly.Max Teichmann was usually the first columnist people turned to when they picked up a copy of News Weekly. His insights into life and people and his entertaining and trenchant writing style, not to mention his sheer breadth of knowledge, made him compellingly readable. A great part of his appeal was his fearless independence of mind - a rare commodity at any time, but particularly today.
In the last two years, he was house-bound with ever-worsening emphysema and swollen legs. However, his mental powers remained undiminished, and he seldom missed producing his regular column for News Weekly
Max grew up in the Melbourne working-class suburb of Carlton during the Great Depression. After leaving school, he worked as a junior journalist, then in 1942 joined the army and saw action in Papua New Guinea.
After the war, as an ex-serviceman, he enrolled in the University of Melbourne where he embarked on a glittering academic career. He won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, where he was taught by Isaiah Berlin, Max Beloff and John Plamenatz.
While living in England, he became acquainted with Barry Humphries who recalls: "We were good friends in my early days in London and I always enjoyed his intelligence and humour, the latter of an engagingly sardonic nature." Max threw himself into left-wing politics, joining Britain's Labour Party and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
In 1964, he returned to Australia and took up a post in the department of politics at Monash University. He was a brilliant and popular lecturer, and a regular broadcaster and prolific writer.
He became particularly active in the anti-Vietnam War movement in Australia and counted among his friends leading Labor identities such as Dr Jim Cairns and Bill Hayden.
Max, however, eventually broke with the Left. Christopher Pearson, former editor of the monthly Adelaide Review
, maintained that his new "critique of parasitism in the institutional Left, old and new, made him a heretical presence at Monash".
Max was prepared publicly to champion Dr Keith Windschuttle against Dr Robert Manne in the history wars.
In 2002, Max was invited to a luncheon reunion with some former left-wing academic colleagues who were scandalised by his conservative turn. He later wrote of them as "the lost tribes of moulting gurus who first burst upon the scene as students in the 1960s.... Age had not withered, nor custom staled their infinite banality."
He went on to observe: "There is a crisis in our universities — especially in the humanities. Masses of human tape-recorders and broken records are being retrenched or marginalised, while legions of business types, led by all-powerful bureaucrats, goose-step around the chook pen, driving away the happy snoozing inhabitants, now forced to run wild in the scrub, or seek out some foreign chook pen." ("Supping with living fossils", News Weekly
, April 20, 2002). URL: http://www.newsweekly.com.au/articles/2002apr20_st.html
While Max repudiated the vanity and intellectual pretensions of the Left, he never embraced the economic agenda of the Right. He remembered the mass unemployment of the Great Depression too well, and felt unenthusiastic about John Howard's program of deregulated capitalism and labour markets.
In 2005, he predicted that the Coalition Government, with its Work Choices policy, would go the way of Stanley Bruce's conservative government in 1929, when it tried to change Australia's pay arbitration system. It lost that election to James Scullin's Labor Party (with Prime Minister Bruce, like Howard in 2007, suffering the added humiliation of losing his own seat).
Max said of Bruce's 1929 defeat: "The Melbourne Club and the big end of town met their Waterloo." ("How to lose with a royal flush", News Weekly
, August 13, 2005). URL: http://www.newsweekly.com.au/articles/2005aug13_mt.html
See also: "The why and how of Labor's victory", News Weekly
, December 8, 2007. URL: http://www.newsweekly.com.au/articles/2007dec08_mt.html
The older generation of News Weekly
and Adelaide Review
readers especially loved Max. The younger generation, however, reared as they were on political correctness and constantly fearful of committing the sin of being judgmental, sometimes professed to be scandalised by his irony and wicked sense of humour.
Max in his final years was always worried that he might have to move into a nursing home far from the stimulating intellectual company which he craved.
Even when his health was at its worst, he continued to take an interest in a wide variety of people, academic and non-academic. He encouraged young writers with their work, and they in turn enjoyed phoning or visiting him and revelling in his conversation and wit.
Max is survived by his wives, Jenny and Helene, and his three sons Zac, Roger and Erik, and granddaughter Emma.- The News Weekly web site features tributes to Max, including eulogies delivered at his funeral on December 5, 2008, at St Peter's Eastern Hill Anglican Church, East Melbourne.