Celebrating South Australia


13 April 1921 Max Harris

 13 April 1921   Max Harris

Literary critic, columnist and general bon vivant, Maxwell Henley Harris was born in Adelaide on 13 April 1921. He was educated in Mount Gambier, at St Peter's College, and the University of Adelaide, where, as an Arts student he won the Bundey prize in 1940. He had some training as a cadet journalist with the News, and a brief time as a public servant. At the age of 19 he founded the literary journal Angry Penguins and produced nine editions between 1940 and 1946. Harris was joined on the journal by John Reed and Sidney Nolan as co-editors.

It was during this period that the Ern Malley hoax was perpetrated by two young soldier/poets, James McAuley and Harold Stewart. They produced some avant garde poetry which they sent to Harris, purporting it to be the work of the 'late Ern Malley'. Harris reviewed the work with enthusiasm. Only later was it revealed that it was written as poetic nonsense and aimed at fooling critics such as Harris. As well as this embarrassment the local police decided that some of the Ern Malley poetry was indecent and Harris was charged with publishing 'obscene' matter. He was found guilty and fined £5.

When Angry Penguins ceased publication Harris joined with his friend Mary Martin in a bookshop. This later became a chain of shops with a mail order service which extended throughout Australia and the Pacific region. In collaboration with others, he continued to edit a literary Magazine, called Ern Malley's Journal, which was published quarterly from 1952 to 1956. From 1957 to 1968 he was co-editor of Australian Letters and from 1961 to 1974 co-edited the Australian Book Review. He also helped to establish Penguin and Sun Books as paperback imprints in Australia, and was publishing consultant to the Macmillan Company in London.

Max Harris was a perceptive social commentator. He campaigned against capital punishment and censorship, amongst other contentious issues. He was horrified that the works of an author of the calibre of George Orwell was banned in Australia. He was a great supporter of Patrick White and championed the writer against the Board of Governors of the Adelaide Festival of Arts when they refused to sanction the production of his plays at early Festivals.

From quite a young age he wrote lyric poetry which he published privately: The Coorong and Other Poems (1955), A Window at Night (1967) and Poetic Gems (1979). He was a contributor to the political and literary journals, The Nation and The Observer, and his 'Browsing' column ran for 27 years in the Australian newspaper.

Max Harris died on 13 January 1995.


Nancy Cato,Weekend Australian,  14-15 January 1995, p.10.
Max Harris, John Reed, Barrie Reid, Ern Malley's Journal, Volume1, November, 1952.
 Peter Ward, The Australian, 16 January 1995, p.14.