The Golden Years – Max Mortlock

Long lives well lived, a wealth of wisdom accumulated over the years…There is much we can learn from our elders and so many stories waiting to be heard. Mirror journalist Wendy Williamson meets Max Mortlock.

He has been such a major player in the life of the Corner Inlet community for so many years, it is perhaps surprising to learn that Max Mortlock is not a born and bred South Gippslander.

Nearly 80 years ago Max was born in Dunolly, near Maryborough in northwestern Victoria. He moved to Melbourne with his family as a young child at the start of the second world war when his father joined the navy, and then to Gormandale (in the Strzeleckis between Traralgon and Yarram) when he was about 17 and his father wanted to go farming again. It was only as a young man in the early 1960s that he made the move to the Corner Inlet district.

Max moved into Prom View 12 months ago, when his prostate cancer, which he had had under control for many years, flared up.

“The staff are very good to me here. They look after me well and I am very thankful,” he says.

Although he can no longer play the sport he loved so much, Max watches bowls and other sport on TV. He also enjoys visits from his family. There’s wife Dulcie, children Jennifer (Roffey), Robert and Julie, five grandchildren and nine grandkids.

Max attended Mordialloc High School, but the day he turned 14 he left to work in a joinery enterprise making windows and doors. His family had farmed at Dunolly and farming was in his blood, so he was happy to go to Gormandale and take up dairy farming when the opportunity presented itself.

It turned out a good move, for it was at Gormandale that Max met Dulcie Lane, who had grown up on a farm there. Her father had been gassed in the first world war, and Max helped her widowed mother and Dulcie’s brothers on the farm and then sharefarmed in the district. A farmer he worked with suggested he try for a place in the Closer Settlement opening up at Yanakie. Max followed his advice and has never looked back.

“Ultimately there were four or five of us who made the move from Gormandale to Yanakie in the early 1960s. It was a great opportunity. We achieved so much more than we could ever have achieved in Gormandale.”

Max’s son now has several farms in the district, covering about 1000 acres in total. Max started with 40 to 45 cows on about 200 acres. Fifty years later, Robert milks 500 cows on 600 acres. 

All the farmers were issued with government-built houses of the same design. Between Yanakie’s closer settlement and its soldier settlement there were 46 in total.

There was little at Yanakie in those days. Max can remember being able to see the light on the lighthouse at Cape Liptrap. Since then the trees have grown up, obscuring it. Much had to be started from scratch. There were tracks and fences to be constructed, and for the first two months there was no power – and subsequently no power tools to assist with the labour. However, neighbours chipped in to help one another and lots of lifelong friendships grew out of the Yanakie community. Much of the community life centred on the Yanakie school, which has since closed, and on the hall. Max, along with other local farmers, helped out at fires. “There wasn’t a brigade as such, or fire tankers as far as I can remember. You just used whatever was at hand to put the fires out. I can remember a couple of fires at the Prom.”

Sport was also important to the community. Max played badminton. “I used to play Geoff McCraw until he couldn’t stand up any longer!” He also played tennis and later he and Dulcie played bowls. “We used to get a local girl to babysit so we could both play.” He also enjoyed floundering in Shallow Inlet, accessing the inlet through the swamp at Hourigans Lane.

“It was a really good community at Yanakie, and it’s good to be living among some of those people again here at Prom View Lodge – people like Sheila McAinch and Helen Brickle,” says Max.

In the 1980s Max retired from farming and moved into Foster with Dulcie. Then, more than ever, bowls became their passion in life. Max was secretary at Foster Bowls Club for nearly twenty years and president for four. He was greenkeeper for about 15 years and regularly toured other clubs, picking up ideas for Foster’s green. Dulcie was also very involved. Quite a champion, she played bowls for Victoria. Together they travelled the country playing bowls and making many friends out of it. Each year they would play at Merimbula, which became an opportunity for an annual reunion with bowls players from all over Victoria and NSW.

Making the move from Gormandale to Corner Inlet was, says Max, “the best thing that could have happened,” and the inlet clearly holds a special place in his heart. Failing health has curtailed much of Max’s activities in recent years, but he still manages to enjoy the beauty of the world around him. He can be found most days in his special chair in the lounge room of Prom View Lodge, gazing out through the picture windows at the magnificent vista before him – Corner Inlet and the distant mountains of Wilsons Promontory.