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John Maxwell (Max) Freeland (1920–1983)

by Peter Reynolds

This article was published:

John Maxwell (Max) Freeland (1920-1983), air force officer and professor of architecture, was born on 11 July 1920 at Trevallyn, Launceston, Tasmania, eldest of three sons of Tasmanian-born parents John Douglas Freeland, bank clerk, and his wife Mary Grant, née Waterhouse. In 1922 the family settled at Surrey Hills, Melbourne. After education at Surrey Hills State and Mont Albert Central schools, and at Scotch College, Max worked for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Melbourne.

Enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force on 1 March 1941, Freeland trained as a pilot in Australia and Canada and was commissioned in November. By June 1942 he was serving in No.6 Squadron, Royal Air Force, flying Hurricanes on low-level, tank-destroying operations in North Africa. After four weeks of this hazardous work, only six of the original twenty-four pilots were alive. On 8 April 1943 Freeland made a forced landing behind German lines, took cover from enemy fire in a wadi and walked for eight hours before a scouting British armoured car picked him up. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In August he was transferred to No.1 Aircraft Delivery Unit and in November was promoted to flight lieutenant.

On 10 September 1944 Freeland returned to Australia. Fifteen days later, he married with Methodist forms Kathleen Elizabeth Horton, a bank officer, at his parents’ home at Essendon. Posted to No.8 Operational Training Unit, Parkes, New South Wales, he spent two weeks on Morotai in June-July 1945. On 1 September he led a fly-past at the celebrations in Melbourne to mark the end of the war. His RAAF appointment was terminated on 21 December. For six months in 1950-51 he served in the Active Citizen Air Force and from June 1952 to April 1953 in the Permanent Air Force.

When in hospital recovering from a bout of malaria, Freeland read by chance some architectural magazines and decided to become an architect. With the help of the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme he matriculated and entered the school of architecture at the University of Melbourne (B.Arch., 1952; Diploma of Town & Regional Planning, 1957; M.Arch., 1957). In 1954 he was awarded the Australian Planning Institute prize. While he was studying, his jobs ranged from hawking babies’ blankets embroidered by his wife to working for the Victorian Railways. After graduation Freeland entered the office of Godfrey & Spowers, Hughes Mewton & Lobb. In March 1955 he joined the firm of Stephen­son & Turner and in May a friend asked him to take over his teaching position at Royal Melbourne Technical College. He became a senior lecturer (1955-57) in the school of archi­tecture and building.

Appointed an associate-professor in the school of architecture and building at the New South Wales University of Technology (University of New South Wales) in 1957, Freeland moved his family to Roseville, Sydney. In 1961 he was appointed to the second chair of architecture. As chairman of the faculty he advocated three teaching guidelines: integration of separate strands of the course with design as the amalgam; a measured progression through the course; and a causal philosophy based on the primary need to provide shelter from the elements with the proviso that the interests of art be not neglected. He involved the profession in implementing the guidelines by building up a group of part-time teachers who were practising architects. Determined in the pursuit of his goals, he nevertheless greeted his colleagues with a ready smile.

Freeland was a member of the New South Wales Board of Architectural Education (1957-70) and the Board of Architects of New South Wales (1961-64); chairman (1970-73) of the historic buildings committee of the National Trust of Australia (New South Wales); life fellow (1970) of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects; fellow of the Royal Society of Arts; member of the societies of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, and of the United States of America; foundation vice-chairman (1976) of the Australia branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites; councillor (1976-80) of the Royal Australian Historical Society; and from 1978 a member of the technical advisory committee of the Australian Heritage Commission. The University of New South Wales conferred on him the degrees of master of architecture (ad eundem gradum) in 1971 and doctor of letters for his published work in 1972.

In 1974 on completion of a course of lectures at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Troy, New York, Freeland, a heavy smoker, suffered a heart attack which necessitated surgery. Awarded a Fulbright travel scholar­ship in 1977, he lectured at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. After his return to UNSW in 1978 he brought to life and headed a multi-disciplinary graduate school of the built environment. He retired in 1981.

Teaching the history of architecture and expounding its meaning for our time was Freeland’s abiding passion. He said that design must be founded on understanding of the past, but without the trammel of precedent. His publications contained the essence of this philosophy: they included Melbourne Churches, 1836-1851: An Architectural Record (1963), The Australian Pub (1966), Architecture in Australia: A History (1968), Rude Timber Buildings in Australia (1969, with Philip Cox and Wesley Stacey) and Architect Extraordinary: The Life and Work of John Horbury Hunt, 1838-1904 (1970). The Making of a Profession: A History of the Growth and Work of the Architectural Institutes in Australia (1971) was written at the request of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. In 1982 the Australian Broadcasting Commission produced `Architects of Australia’, biographical scripts for radio written by Freeland on John Horbury Hunt, Florence Taylor, William Hardy Wilson and Robin Boyd.

Freeland had become a Freemason in 1954, joining the Erskine Murray Lodge at Kew, Melbourne. When a lodge was formed at the University of New South Wales in 1961, he was installed as senior warden. Two years later he became master. He was appointed AM in 1983. Survived by his wife and their two sons and daughter, he died of myocardial infarction on 7 September 1983 at his Roseville home and was cremated after a Presbyterian service.

Select Bibliography

  • Architecture Australia, vol 73, no 1, 1984, p 26
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Sept 1983, p 6
  • Architecture Bulletin, Nov 1983, p 13
  • J. M. Freeland, RAAF statement of service (Dept of Defence, Canberra)
  • H. de Berg, interview with J. M. Freeland (typescript, 1971, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Reynolds, 'Freeland, John Maxwell (Max) (1920–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 July, 1920
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia


7 September, 1983 (aged 63)
Roseville, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.