LOOKING out over the farm he worked so hard to develop, Max Jelbart died at home in Pound Creek after a short illness. He was 67.
He was remembered on Friday, at a special memorial service at his home ‘Willy Willy’.
A large crowd attended and many mourners celebrated his tireless commitment to farming and the community.
Mr Jelbart was remembered as a passionate and inspirational farmer, who believed in the industry and gave back to the people with his wisdom, kindness and expertise.
Earlier this year he was honoured with an Order of Australia medal for services to the dairy industry and the community.
“I’m humbled by the recognition,” he said at the time.
He said he simply “got as much out of agriculture as he put in”.
Max grew up on a dairy farm in Tarwin Lower, the son of Dorothy and Lloyd Jelbart, and eldest of four children.
The family started out in dairy, then in 1958 switched to beef.
Max went to boarding school at Mentone Grammar from 1960 and from 1963 to 67 to Scotch College; he finished school in 1967, having failed Year 12.
Max was a successful rower at Scotch College, a passion his sons took on. He could have gone on to better success, but was keen to start work.
Having bought a truck before finishing school, he did the rounds in cattle carting and as a farmhand around the district.
Max was called up for National Service but was rejected on medical grounds. Instead he went and worked in a copper mine in Bougainville, and a diamond mine in
Namibia.
In 1973 he returned to the district, and set to work on farming.
It was a failure – he borrowed all the money to buy cattle, pay the rent and fertiliser – he bought in beef steers at $190 and sold them 12 months later at $70 (when farm wages were $1.50 an hour) – a beef glut in 1974 decimated prices.
The beef were sold in 1975 and a share farmer fired up the old dairy in partnership.
It was at this time that he met Barbe.
Barbe, who was working on a nearby property as a stablehand, rider and au pair came to dinner, the guest of Max’s younger brother Ken, and the couple kicked it off.
Max moved to the city and worked three jobs – barman, on the Melbourne underground railway loop and male modelling before moving into real estate residential sales.
Over the five years working in Melbourne, Max paid off his debts and bought three flats in Melbourne.
By all accounts, he was successful in the city, but as he said “you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy”.
He married Barbe in 1979 and they moved back to South Gippsland and sold country real estate.
Max bought back into farming in 1981, starting with 120 dairy cows.
Barbe and Max raised their sons on the Leongatha South property, Will born in 1980, George in 1982 and Tim in 1985.
Max built up the family business to 1000 cows at Pound Creek and 350 at Caldermeade.
During his career in dairy, Max served on various industry boards and committees and was a supplier of Murray Goulburn for 38 years – and a director since 2012.
He was president of the South Gippsland Branch, United Dairy Farmers of Victoria, during the 2000s and was a Central Council Member for seven years.
He was a board member of the Australian Dairy Farmers for seven years.
He was also voluntary director on the Ellinbank Research Farm.
His expertise and willingness to share it stemmed from a love for agriculture; winning a Nuffield scholarship in 1991 was a life changing experience. He went on to serve as Nuffield Farmers Scholars Australia treasurer for 10 years, a board member between 2000 to 2008, and was inducted as a life member.
He said he gained many new friends through the Nuffield Program, and his involvement was instrumental in expanding the organisation to such an extent it now offers 30 scholarships.
Max was also a director of Marcus Oldham College (since 1997) – it was a particular joy to him that the high school drop-out was leading the educators; he was awarded an Honorary Bachelor of Business Degree (Agriculture) by the college last year.
When he was announced as an Order of Australia (general division) medal recipient on Australia Day, he swatted away his agricultural and professional achievements: “I love agriculture and have been fully engaged in it,” he said.
“My proudest achievement has been my wife Barbie and my three boys – Will, George and Tim.”