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Farewell to Shepparton high flyer Max

By John Lewis

Ernest "Max" North 1931-2020

Shepparton's Max North has been remembered as a fun-loving daredevil who once landed his plane on a fairway of Shepparton golf course, a pioneering aviator and a hard-working family man.

Max North passed away peacefully at Shepparton Villages’ Maculata Place on March 14 surrounded by his family at the age of 89.

Daughter Julie Thompson said her father adapted to nursing home life with a resilient attitude paired with daily family visits and his "wicked sense of humour" that kept nursing staff on their toes and his wife Joan by his side.

Mrs Thompson described her father as her best mate who led a full and busy life.

“Life with Dad was so interesting, we never knew what he was going to do next and he always made us laugh,” Mrs Thompson said.

Max North doing what he loved - flying planes. He hung up his flying wings when he was 81.

Ernest Maxwell North was born the eldest of four boys at Shepparton's Ambermere Hospital in 1931.

He attended Shepparton High School and worked carting wheat during the school holidays, saving enough money to buy his first motorbike — an Aerial 600cc side-valve, which he bought from Joe Carmody.

Mrs Thompson said her father's maverick personality developed early.

He left school at 14 to work at Viberts timber yard and at Trevaskis Motors as a mechanic.

Mr North also worked as a plant engineer at the Shepparton bacon factory, following in the footsteps of his father Ernie, who worked there for more than 50 years.

He was employed at gravel contracting business Maskell & Gribben before purchasing his first tip truck and starting his own earth-moving company, E. North & Son.

Mr North was later joined by his brother Bryan to form EM&B North, now known as Redstone Crushing, carting gravel and sand and operating quarries around the Shepparton and Euroa districts.

The business went on to become a well-known Goulburn Valley fixture for 55 years, and is now run by Mr North's son, Rod.

Max North married his wife, Joan (nee Gillespie), at Scots Church, Shepparton on November 15, 1952. The couple went on to have three children: Julie, Lynda and Rod.

As well as playing tennis, golf and table tennis, Max became fascinated with flying and achieved his pilot's licence at 25.

Max bought a Tiger Moth biplane for £650 and it became the first plane based at Shepparton Aerodrome.

Max North worked at his company's quarries until he was 82 years old.

The flying North brothers went on to establish Shepparton's first air taxi business with an Argus Fairchild aircraft, bought from fellow pilot Ron Fisher.

Mrs Thompson said the brothers employed pilot Paul Tetley for their air taxi business while they worked carting gravel and sand.

“They didn't make a penny from the air taxi business — luckily, Dad loved flying,” she said.

She said while at Shepparton Golf Club with a few mates, someone mentioned that nobody had ever landed a plane on any of the fairways.

“Dad disappeared and a short time later, they hear a roar coming over the club rooms and his plane touched down on the fairway in full view of everyone in the club house and the bar. He did get into a spot of trouble over that one,” Mrs Thompson said.

Other exploits included blowing a cylinder while flying home from Wangaratta, having to emergency land in a paddock and securing it with wire from a farm fence to complete the journey.

“Mum heard dad flying back into Shepp, grabbed me from the bassinet and went over and ripped shreds through him. After that he locked the plane in the hangar for quite some time,” Mrs Thompson said.

Then there was the birthday cake joke.

“At a birthday for his mate Rodney Wayne there was a giant cake and everybody was expecting a gorgeous girl to jump out, but there was Dad stark naked with his flying helmet on,” she said. “That was Dad to a tee.”

She said her father's last flight was when he was 81.

“He came in, hung the keys up and said ‘that's my last solo flight’," she said.

In November last year the Goulburn Valley Aero Club honoured Mr North, a life member, by naming the clubrooms the ‘Max North Clubrooms'.

Mrs Thompson said her father appreciated this acknowledgement of his commitment to the club for more than 60 years.

Mrs Thompson said her father loved flying, red wine, his wife and his family, in that order.

“There was never a dull moment with Max North as our dad," she said,

"He wasn't just your average bloke — he was an absolute legend."

Mr North leaves his wife Joan, three children and nine grandchildren.