Max Thorburn calling the races.
By VINNIE RODI
LONG-time Mildura Rural City Councillor, media man and lover of country music – Max Thorburn was a man of many titles, all richly deserved and bestowed during a life well-lived.
Max, 72, achieved many accolades throughout his career, and probably held none higher than his recent induction into the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame – becoming only the third journalist in Australian history to achieve the feat.
One of the lesser records he was claimed to hold, however, was for the most ‘bylines’ to feature in one edition of the Sunraysia Daily – close to 30 if the rumors are true – back in an era when the Daily was printed as a broadsheet, and was the only source of print news in the region.
I first heard the story behind the ‘byline’ record through former Mildura Weekly editor, and friend and former colleague of Max’s, Alan Erskine. It was in my third year at the ’Weekly, and Alan was describing some of the methods journos of yesteryear would use to chase down leads across the district – before the internet and mobile phones made life “easier.”
Max, Erka said, had a tendency to disappear from the office for hours on end, only to return with dozens of stories late in the afternoon. His notes would be scribbled on anything he could get his hands on – drink coasters, napkins, occasionally a note pad – and Max would then get to the task of ‘belting the yarns out.’
On one particular day, Max had come across a cache of stories while at the trots, before coming across a few more while enjoying a pub lunch. The result was the so-called ‘byline’ record.
For a young journo starting out, it was a lesson of what it meant to be a reporter in Mildura. While accuracy, fairness and local relevance was important, being a member of your community, getting out and about, gaining the trust of your community, and being able to find a yarn in even the most obscure circumstances was more important.
Max, to me, was a trailblazer of the local media scene, with his passing last Thursday following a battle with cancer touching many in the community.
Max, through his association with radio stations HOTFM and Old Gold, and through his own newspaper the Mildura Independent (which later moved online), was responsible for giving many local personalities their first experiences in media, with the likes of Bill Sauer and Pat Silcox attributing their success to Max’s teachings.
Max’s career saw him experience every form of broadcasting – commercial and landline radio, pirate radio, narrowcast radio, Christian radio, and the community radio he founded in Mildura more than two decades ago.
It was in November 1984 when an 18-year-old Max arrived in Mildura to take a job as afternoon announcer at Radio 3MA. Back in those days Bruce McLean, who went on to forge a career in television, was 3MA breakfast announcer.
That first gig followed up Max’s early love for radio, which started when he was in Grade Six at Belgrave Primary School. With his mind set on a radio career, Max wanted to leave school at Year Five (now Year 11).
His parents talked him out of it, instead allowing him to take every Friday off to travel to Melbourne to attend two sessions at the Lee Murray School of Announcing in Exhibition Street.
After finishing secondary school, Max began doing weekend work at radio station 3SA at Balaclava, a ‘landline’ station broadcasting to a couple of city blocks.
Max’s next move was to Mildura – the city he would eventually call home – and where, over more than half a century, he has become an institution in broadcasting and print media.
When Max started at 3MA, Roy Harwood was sales manager, and former technician Max Folie, a friend of radio station and newspaper owner CD Lanyon, was station manager.
Max (the younger) worked at 3MA for less than a year before becoming breakfast announcer at Colac. During his time at Colac he boarded with fellow radio man Peter Eustace, who had ambitions to become a race commentator and who went on to call races, trots and greyhounds.
MAX then moved to Moree in New South Wales, an eye-opening experience for the young broadcaster, before returning to Sunraysia later that year, working part-time with 3MA.
He also got a fill-in job as booth announcer and local newsreader on Sunday nights on STV8, which was also controlled by the Elliot Newspaper Group. Within a few years of returning to 3MA, Max made the shift to the newspaper industry, although not entirely by choice.
It was in the early 1970s that Roy Harwood decided to bring in a young sound, and Max was earmarked to go because, at age 25, he was “too old to be a teeny bopper.”
He went to the Daily, where he had been filling in on Sundays for renowned reporter Bob Fox, who had been promoted to the sports job. After a few years, and driven as always by his passion for radio and music, Max took off to the United States, where he would make a host of important connections, not the least of which was a working relationship with international country music star Marty Robbins.
It was also a move which would ultimately see him sever ties with the Daily, and start his own newspaper – the Mildura Independent.
At one stage during the 1980s, Max was working as a ‘stringer’ for about 20 newspapers, ABC radio and a number of commercial radio stations before starting Mildura’s first and longest-running community radio station – HOTFM.
Max was voluntary station manager of HOTFM, a position he held for 23 years. While voluntary station manager, Max also led the Mildura Independent newspaper as editor for 25 years, a role he continued with an online version right up until his death.
Max also enjoyed a colourful career as a race caller, with his introduction to the sport coming through his former flat mate Peter Eustace when the pair both worked at Radio 3CS Colac in 1965.
Max was talked into having a crack at race calling in 1966 when there was no-one else available for a Wentworth District Racing Club meeting. Since then he’s called all codes – gallops, harness and greyhounds – and his call tally sits at well over 10,000.
AFTER a minor cancer scare in July 2015, Max recovered to call the Wentworth meeting that same year, but in January 2016 the cancer spread and he spent two months in the Epworth Freemason’s Hospital in East Melbourne.
He got out of hospital in time to do a full season of commentating local SFNL and Millewa football for 1611AM Old Gold Radio, which brought up 50 years of covering Sunraysia football.
Earlier this year Max revealed that he was once again battling cancer, with the disease forcing him to take an extended leave of absence from his role as a Mildura Councillor – a role he had served in continuously since 2008.
In fact, anyone who has attended a council meeting during Cr Thorburn’s tenure would appreciate just what Max brought to the chamber. He was always keen to debate motions and issues, even if he was in favour of them!
He once told me that he only opposed half the motions put up to start a debate!
“Wouldn’t be much for you to write about if I didn’t,” he had said with a wry smile.
Max has also been honoured by numerous sporting organisations in recent years for his commitment to local broadcasting, with the SFNL and the Mildura Basketball Association at the top of the list.
The life of Max Thorburn will be celebrated today at Number One Oval from 10.30am.