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Piggott, Maxwell (Max) (1920–2010)

by Malcolm Brown

Max Piggott, aged 54 and a semi-retired farmer, had the temerity to write to a rural publication, Western Farmer and Grazier, in 1974 and suggest that its journalists were not getting their facts right. He said a ''broken-down old farmer'' such as himself could do better. If he thought he could do better, the editor responded, he should ''start Monday''.

Piggott took up the offer and launched himself on a rural reporting career that was to last for 36 years, covering rural affairs for what was to become Farm Weekly into his 91st year. Even at 90 he sniffed out news stories as well as any ''young kid'', his editor, Trevor Emery, said, ''a terrific advertisement for the staying power of his generation''.

His career would have continued had he not been fatally injured in a collision with a truck near Albany early this month.

Maxwell Ian Piggott was born in Albert Park in Melbourne on June 16, 1920, son of a policeman, John Piggott, and his wife Lydia (nee Simmonds). One of four children, Max did his schooling in South Melbourne, and then went to work at the age of 14.

His first job was with a soap manufacturer, Lever Brothers.

When war was declared in 1939 he enlisted, serving initially as an artillery instructor and playing Australian rules football with the army team. He was sent to New Guinea with the 2/5th Commando Unit.

After bouts of malaria and differences of opinion with commanding officers he was sent back to Australia and decommissioned, reduced in rank from lieutenant to private. He immediately returned to New Guinea with the 2/6th Commando Unit and was put in charge of his company, by virtue of his experience of the conditions. He fought in the battle for Wau.

After the war, Piggott thought he might open a nursery and enrolled at Burnley Horticultural College in inner Melbourne, where he met Margaret Elizabeth Rowan, a student who was to become his wife.

He thought he might also play just one game with the Victorian Football League to prove to himself that he was good enough. He was, and played eight senior games with South Melbourne.

He later told the story that when he was starting as full-forward against St Kilda, he went to shake hands with his opponent. He said, ''G'day, Max Piggott. I've just got back from the war, a bit out of fitness and I've got a touch of malaria. Can you take it easy on me today?'' But the opponent declined to shake hands. Instead, he said: ''You can go and get f---ed!'' It was Keith Miller, high-flying first class cricketer and also a VFL player.

Piggott kicked four goals for South Melbourne that day and went on to play for South Melbourne in the 1947 season. His goal tally for the club was 21.

Years later, in an essay about football in inner-suburban Melbourne, Piggott wrote that in the likes of Fitzroy and Collingwood and South Melbourne, football made life ''bearable''.

''On one day a week football broke down class barriers. Football gave hope; winning was possible,'' he said.

He had decided he was not going to make a living playing football. When he married in 1948, the Rowan family gave him and Margaret 64 hectares of land on Mornington Peninsula, on the proviso they develop the property. In the home he built himself, they brought up four children: David, Sally, Richard and Catherine.

In 1955 he won a Nuffield Foundation Scholarship to Britain where he studied drainage and soil water movement.

On his return, he involved himself in the community, joining the local rural fire brigade and becoming chairman of Westernport Community Aid Abroad. He was a co-founder of both the Peninsula Music Society and the Peninsula Fat Lamb Society.

In January 1967, seeking a new challenge, Piggott decided to move to Western Australia with the family and he resumed farming. The first years were tough. The bottom fell out of the lamb market and he switched to cattle. Once again he was involved with local affairs, joining among other things the local rural fire brigade. Even though the income from cattle improved, he felt the need to supplement his income.

Then came his overture to the Western Farmer and Grazier. He soon mastered the job. He knew the Great Southern area intimately and was recognised as a character in the district.

Emery said: ''Over the last decade I don't think we gave Max an assignment. He rang us and told us what was going on and what he thought we should be covering. He loved to be part of journalism, he loved farming and especially the rural community of south-west Western Australia.''

On the day of his death, he was on assignment for Farm Weekly, covering a field day on the grazing of wheat.

Piggott is survived by Margaret, their children, 13 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 July 2010

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Piggott, Maxwell (Max) (1920–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/piggott-maxwell-max-16858/text28754, accessed 28 September 2020.

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