National serviceman forever changed by war

Vietnam War veteran Max Brooking was called up for national service in the late 60s and spent a year fighting the war with the Australian Army from 1969-70.

“As a young man it was quite exciting. It was something that I’d never done before and it opened up my eyes a little bit too. It taught me to look after myself,” he says.

Max was part of a unit of mechanics charged with keeping essential equipment like tanks and trucks repaired and in good working order.

His role was cook, keeping the chaps fed, but he also went out on patrol occasionally.

He lists coming under fire as one of the most frightening experiences of his time in Vietnam, along with witnessing a war-torn country dotted with blown-up buildings.

On reflection, the 72-year-old, who went on to forge a successful career in accounting post the Army, says there would be “no way known” he’d consider doing it again. 

“I was very happy to get back home because at that stage I was a married man and had a couple of children. To get back to them was very important to me,” Max explains.

“I was very proud to serve my country and looking back it was a great experience, but my personal thoughts were that the government really shouldn’t get involved with civil wars and that’s what Vietnam was all about. I don’t think us or the Americans should have ever been there.”

After retiring in 2006, Max answered an advertisement by the VRC in the local paper seeking event staff for Flemington.

He has worked as an attendant in the VRC’s Committee Room ever since, vetting people as they enter.

The job has granted him the opportunity to meet and greet high-profile figures including Prince Charles and Camilla and Michelle Payne and Darren Weir after they won the 2015 Melbourne Cup with Prince of Penzance.

As a young child, Max fondly recalls regularly attending the races at Flemington with his parents.

He was on course the day Hi Jinx won the Melbourne Cup in 1960 and reckons if you watch the clip of the race closely you’ll spot a young boy darting along the top of the screen chasing the horses as they charge up the straight.

“I’ve always enjoyed horse racing,” Max says.

“I’m not a gambler but I just love the spectacular part of horse racing. Where I work, in the Committee Room, I get to meet so many different people. To me, it’s more of a social outlet.

“If you go back to the 50s and 60s horse racing was really important, especially the spring carnival. It’s an event where you can go and dress up and look good and enjoy the day. It’s something still carried on from the old times.”

Max belongs to the Pascoe Vale RSL and raises the flag at the VRC’s annual ANZAC Day race meeting.

He considers the day a time for reflection and says it makes him feel good to commemorate the fallen.