Vale Max Churchward

September 6th, 2021

Max Churchward passed away on 27 August 2021 after a short stay in hospital. He will be sadly missed by his family and friends. His funeral is at Norfolk chapel Karrakatta Cemetery at 3pm, 9th of September 2021.

Read Peter Hick’s tribute to Max and his memories of working with him. If you would like to add your own stories about Max, please contact


The passing of Max closes a chapter in CSIRO’s history of when Soil Science was considered to be the foundation of land management options. Max joined the Perth Pedology Group, led by Dr Maurice Mulcahy in about 1965, moving from studies of the flat plains of Denilliquin to the ancient Archean landscapes of WA. The other scientists in the group by then were Bill MacArthur, Eric Bettenay and Geoff Dimmock. Wally Russell and I being the technicians.
Max completed surveys that provided an understanding of the regolith from the Wiluna hardpan, the Murray-Hotham, Collie and the Pilbara. His work influenced the location of the City of Karratha. He always wanted to survey the fascinating country around Northampton – maybe because it is more unlike Denilliquin than anywhere else! Maurice would not buy it, much to Max’s disappointment.
I am recalling this as I camp in the Pilbara, and just this week have visited both the Strelley and George River catchments where, with Max, we mapped these two important examples of the Pilbara landscape 40 years ago. These plains are now crossed by 2-mile-long ore trains and trucking routes delivering mineral resources to the world.
Working with Max was always fun and his radical views on politics were never far from our campfire discussions. His energy and enthusiasm, striding off through the spinifex with notebook, auger and shovel were inspirational (until about lunch-time). Max was a voracious eater but rarely involved himself with cooking. These were the first expeditions where we had both Engel fridges and a tiny Honda generator. Bill and Wally were both fine cooks but no matter what master-piece or culinary failure resulted Max always had a clean plate after the second or third helping. I never heard Max complain about any food on offer!
Max’s Mastery of the Stereoscope, especially monochrome photos (he was colour-blind) was exceptional and he was always a willing and capable teacher. We all benefitted from his uncanny ability to separate discrete landforms, then bugger it up with a blunt Chinagraph Pencil! Out task was to translate his scribblings into a map. It was a great time in CSIRO, but change is inevitable.
The formation of the Division of Land Resources Management, by amalgamating our Division of Soils with others, led to the creation of the Remote Sensing Group. Max and I were asked to join Frank Honey to take advantage of the opportunities offered by recently launched Earth Observation Satellites. The world of computers and digital pictures were not Max’s scene, but he did recognize their value and in later days used them to great advantage.
I always made a point of standing close to Max at farewells and functions. His irreverent comments and not so subtle gibes were priceless, especially after a couple of beers. I will not be the only one to miss Max at the Christmas BBQs under the trees.

Peter Hicks, Sept 2021