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Falstein, Sydney Max (1914–1967)

by J. W. Shaw

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Sydney Max Falstein (1914-1967), by unknown photographer, 1940s

Sydney Max Falstein (1914-1967), by unknown photographer, 1940s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24209855

Sydney Max Falstein (1914-1967), politician, lawyer and businessman, was born on 30 May 1914 at Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, son of Abram Max Falstein, a grazier from Russia, and his German-born wife Rosa, née Goldman. Educated at Sydney Boys' High and Sydney Grammar schools, young Max entered the University of Sydney (B.A., 1935) and later studied for a law degree. On 13 March 1937 at St John's Anglican Church, Darlinghurst, he married a nurse Ila Brenda Greig; by marrying outside the Jewish faith, he was estranged from his wealthy mother. He went to New Zealand, took several jobs and became an organizer for the Labour Party. Back home, on 23 August 1940 he was admitted to the New South Wales Bar.

As the Australian Labor Party's candidate for Watson, in September that year Falstein was elected to the House of Representatives; he was to retain the seat in 1943 and 1946. Colleagues found him blunt, impetuous and reckless. One observer noted his 'superb confidence in himself that leads either to a big success or a big crash'. In his first speech he attacked (Sir) Robert Menzies' government for failing to prosecute the war with vigour and for favouring the interests of employers over those of workers. He aligned himself with A. A. Calwell and forces within the parliamentary Labor Party opposed to the leadership of John Curtin. After the A.L.P. came to power Falstein clashed openly with Curtin in 1944 over the recruitment and employment of Royal Australian Air Force personnel.

On 18 July 1942 Falstein had enlisted in the R.A.A.F. He was court-martialled in September for using insubordinate language to a superior officer, convicted and sentenced to twenty-eight days detention. An appeal to the Air Board was dismissed, despite his flurry of telegrams to Labor politicians. Having qualified as a pilot, he was commissioned in May 1943 and completed an operational tour (1944-45) with No.42 (Catalina) Squadron in the South-West Pacific Area. His appointment terminated on 4 September 1945.

Following the war, Falstein set up in business. In September 1948 he was fined £320 for falsifying documents to understate the value of imported wristwatches. His appeal failed. Apparently as a consequence, the Labor Party refused him endorsement for Watson at the next general elections, although he had strong support from Calwell who argued that he had been convicted of merely 'technical offences'. Falstein's unsuccessful attempt to retain Watson as an Independent Labor candidate in 1949 led to his expulsion from the A.L.P. He played no further substantial role in politics, except to urge Labor support in 1950 for Menzies' Communist Party dissolution bill. Although Falstein had publicly expressed his detestation of communism, he had also advocated the socialization of industry and the recognition of Communist China.

On 12 August 1958 he was declared bankrupt, with unsecured liabilities of £34,553 and assets of £1581. Refusing to discharge him in 1962, the judge in bankruptcy Sir Thomas Clyne found that his conduct 'exhibited very little sense of business morality or of honest dealing'. Falstein had returned to the Bar in March 1961. In late 1962 he represented himself before the High Court of Australia in a challenge to Clyne's refusal to exempt from the bankruptcy order his income as a barrister. The court dismissed the appeal, along with his separate appeal to be discharged from bankruptcy.

Falstein was energetic, rebellious and hubristic. His promising career had been marred by unproductive clashes with authority and dubious business ventures. Suffering from diabetes and hypertension, he died of a cerebral thrombosis on 18 May 1967 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, and was cremated with Jewish rites. His wife, daughter and three of his four sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Weller (ed), Caucus Minutes 1901-1949, 3, 1932-49 (Melb, 1975)
  • F. Daly, From Curtin to Kerr (Melb, 1977)
  • C. Kiernan, Calwell (Melb, 1978)
  • G. Souter, Acts of Parliament (Melb, 1988)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 22 Nov 1940, p 129, 19 June 1941, p 187, 20 June 1941, p 230, 7 Nov 1941, p 195, 22 June 1943, p 71, 14 Sept 1944, pp 857, 859, 4 July 1946, p 2240, 15 May 1947, p 2445, 10 Oct 1947, p 642, 16 June 1948, p 2049, 5 Oct 1949, p 972
  • State Reports, New South Wales , 49, 1949, p 133
  • Commonwealth Law Reports, 108, 1962-63, p 523
  • Australian Law Journal, 36, 1962, p 267
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 12 Oct 1940, 30 Mar 1946, 19 Nov 1949
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12, 23 Sept 1942, 15 Sept 1944, 27 Sept 1947, 18 Dec 1948, 1 Oct, 16 Nov 1949, 5 May 1950, 23 Nov 1962, 19 May 1967.

Citation details

J. W. Shaw, 'Falstein, Sydney Max (1914–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/falstein-sydney-max-10150/text17925, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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