Max Chester OAM

As a young man, I lived quite close to the University of Melbourne. However, I never thought that the opportunity would come my way, to enter its illustrious grounds as a student. My school days were far from spectacular – I was not a great scholar but enjoyed immensely mathematics, art, graphics and history. My interest in history is still as strong today.

An early close friend at the time was Neville Quarry, who later distinguished himself as a Professor of Architecture. The profession of architecture did not in those days have the status it has today. Most of my friends who entered the University, at the time, pursued the traditional disciplines: medicine, law, dentistry, science and of course, the arts, and indicated little interest in a career in architecture. Perhaps the army huts did represent the correct background, of the course in Architecture, as we knew it then.

Life was not meant to be easy, but take courage my child for it can be delightful.

This extract from the famous play “Back to Methuselah” by George Bernard Shaw is probably a fair summation of our lives; certainly in my case.

A Commonwealth Government Scholarship allowed my entrance to Melbourne University, which up to that time had been restricted to the “privileged”. All this changed with the introduction of Commonwealth Government Scholarships in 1952. I recall vividly the telegram I received, during National Service in Puckapunyal, in the Army, standing on a dusty parade ground being advised, that I had received a scholarship. My insulated, isolated life was about to change forever.

At the School of Architecture at the University of Melbourne, in those run down army huts, we were most fortunate to have a number of luminaries as tutors, particularly I note Roy Grounds and Ray Berg. However, the person who had the most impact on my life was the architect, Leslie Perrott Jnr. AO, a very fine and talented man, who advised me, when I was a young man as follows: “Serve the Community, and the Community will Serve you”. This has been the practical statement of my life’s work.

A short note from the 25th Anniversary reunion booklet of students who commenced their course in Architecture at Melbourne University in 1952:

In our earlier student times, we eagerly and warmly discovered and shared an idealism of our chosen profession. We have since spread these earlier endeavours, in a variety of far-reaching ways; some outside the profession or architecture itself, yet we have maintained an ongoing contact and awareness of each other.

Some of my fellow students at the time were: Kevin Cole, Arda Dzirnekels, Gordon Steele, Pam Humphry, Ken Styles, Gerry Kraus, Lisle Rudolph, Tham Chan-Wah, John Baulch, George Fox, Bob Durran, Bill Kerr, John Wisken, Les Trelour, John Berreen, Dudley Wilson, Geoff Woodfall, Noel Dunn, John Vernon, Hugh Flockhart, Strauan Gilfillan, Noel Dunn. Some of these fellow students unfortunately have passed on.

The University brought about a dramatic change in my life and outlook, an opportunity, rich in colour and lifetime involvement. Four years after graduation, when the firm I was working for folded, I started my own practice, which has held intact over all these years. My practice has been mostly focused on schools, homes for the elderly and churches, and in recent years I have done work for the Islamic community. I am now working on my fourth mosque, and have been the architect for nine churches.

From the earliest days, I have always been involved in community affairs and I have met and worked with people of all walks of life during this community involvement. A university degree equips one with skills, which provide an opportunity to serve the extended community. This involvement has been an enriching experience. In my case, I have served a wide variety of community and semi-government organisations in an executive capacity. The rewards have been wonderful.

I was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2000, for services to the Community, Local Government and Architecture. I served as Secretary of the Order of Australia Association (Victoria Branch) for some 4 years. I have also maintained a lifelong interest in the works of Walter Burley Griffen. Next year we will celebrate the centenary of the winning entry of Walter Burley Griffen for the International Competition for the Design of Canberra.

Currently, I am involved at the University of Melbourne in a number of areas, particularly trying to help young students in their future careers, in the wider community at the Centre of Islamic Studies and the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning.

I am extremely thankful for a career which has been rich in reward, excitement, and for the opportunity to serve.

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