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Julius, Max Nordau (1916–1963)

by John McGuire

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

Max Nordau Julius (1916-1963), barrister and communist, was born on 9 March 1916 in South Brisbane, seventh and youngest child of Julius Isack (known as Isack Julius), a tailor from Hungary, and his Rumanian-born wife Ernestina, née Lang. Max was raised in a non-orthodox Jewish family which ultimately produced six members of the Communist Party of Australia. After attending Leichhardt Street State School, he won a scholarship (1929) to Brisbane Grammar School where he was described in its register as 'able but sometimes rather sluggish'. In 1934 he entered the University of Queensland (B.A., 1938; LL.B., 1940) and successfully combined study with energetic involvement in undergraduate activities. A member (1937) of the Debating Club's intervarsity team, he was secretary (1937-38) of the Radical Club and active in the Law Students' Society. As editor (1938) of the Student Union's weekly paper, Semper Floreat, he became well used to the fracas typical of student politics. While forging an enduring friendship with Ted Bacon (later secretary of the Queensland branch of the C.P.A.) and becoming 'well-red' in Marxist literature, he joined the C.P.A. in 1936.

In the late 1930s Julius's involvement with the party became more intense. He had participated in some of the Unity Theatre's socialist productions, performing in Waiting for Lefty in 1938, and in 1940 he and another member of the C.P.A., Connie Healy, formed the Queensland branch of the Eureka Youth League. His continued ill health precluded active military service. Next year his application to join the Queensland Bar was blocked on the ground that he was a communist. He took the matter to court, with F. W. Paterson, himself a communist, as his able counsel. The judge's decision, which provoked much publicity, found the evidence insufficient to prove that the applicant was 'not of good fame' and Julius was admitted to the Bar on 29 June 1941. Discrimination continued over the next two decades and he received comparatively few briefs from Brisbane's legal fraternity. His only income was earned from cases referred to him by a friendly solicitor Cyril Murphy, but Julius was kept busy by an endless procession of impecunious clients, keen to exploit his generosity and solicit his services for a token fee. At the general registry office, Brisbane, on 22 October 1943 he married Kate Doreen Gillham, a nurse; they were to remain childless and to be divorced in 1962.

Following his involvement in the infamous St Patrick's Day march held during the 1948 railway strike, Julius was sentenced to three months imprisonment for the non-payment of fines totalling £107 11s. 0d. imposed on him under the Industrial Law (Anti-picketing) Amendment Act (1948). With fellow communists Michael Healy and E. C. Englart, he was released after two weeks when their predicament began to attract widespread sympathy from the community and their fines were mysteriously paid by an anonymous donor—widely believed to be the Hanlon Labor government.

Julius's standing within the C.P.A. was assured by his public exposure, formidable intelligence, good humour and legal skill, and he became one of the most respected members of the Queensland branch. In fulfilling his commitment to the party he stood for election to the House of Representatives in 1946, 1954, 1955, 1958 and 1961. On the last occasion his preferences were essential to the Liberal candidate, (Sir) James Killen, winning Moreton, thus securing the return of the Menzies government. Julius also unsuccessfully contested the Senate in 1949, 1951 and 1953, the Queensland Legislative Assembly in 1947 and 1950, and was a mayoral candidate for Brisbane in 1949, 1952 and 1955.

While Australians became increasingly preoccupied with 'the communist spectre', Julius appeared as a counsel for the defence at the royal commission into the C.P.A. in Victoria in 1950. He provided legal support for the challenge to the Communist Party dissolution bill before the High Court of Australia in 1950-51. During the Commonwealth's royal commission on espionage (1954-55), he cross-examined the Petrovs, ably represented Frederick Rose and assisted others. Involved in numerous campaigns, he supported the Aboriginal cause and was an executive-member of the Queensland Peace Committee. Having endured twenty years of economic hardship, on 16 February 1960 he had his name removed from the roll of barristers and was admitted as a solicitor, entering into partnership with Murphy. Julius's new-found prosperity was short-lived. He died of myocardial infarction on 27 February 1963 in Princess Alexandra Hospital, South Brisbane, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • University of Queensland Students, Semper Floreat, 7, no 23, Oct 1938, p 1
  • Communist Party of Australia, Guardian (Melbourne), 4, no 8, 5 Mar 1963, p 3
  • Queensland State Reports, 1941
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 3, 11, 12, 16 June, 30 July 1941, 18 Mar, 4, 5, 20, 21 Aug, 16, 17 Sept, 10 Dec 1948, 28 Feb 1963
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 17 Mar, 3-5, 19 Aug 1948
  • JUS/35, letters and associated papers re the imprisonment of Communists Max Julius, E. C. Englart and M. Healy, 1948 (Queensland State Archives).

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Citation details

John McGuire, 'Julius, Max Nordau (1916–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/julius-max-nordau-10652/text18929, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 November 2014.

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

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