Case 2: A Professor's War

After undergraduate study in Sydney, Raymond Maxwell (Max) Crawford spent three years at Oxford 1927-30, and returned there after a stint of school-teaching in Sydney. In 1933 he started a research project on democratic and social change in Spain, though his interest in the growing crisis there was informed by a concern with the history of ideas, albeit a humanitarian concern also, but not a political one.

In the event, he returned to a job at Sydney University in 1935, and did produce some material on Spain, and took an interest in the material generated by the Spanish Relief Committee.

In 1937 he took up the History Chair at Melbourne and began to comment on the Spanish Civil War from a liberal democratic perspective, writing a letter to the Argus and giving addresses.

In 1938 his standing as a public liberal intellectual was enhanced when he became one of the Vice-Presidents of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, and when Vice-Chancellor Medley took him on to the University National Service Committee he became a forceful critic of a proposal of Professor Copland in 1938 that service be made compulsory.

Crawford maintained that the University's most useful contribution to National Service, and, later, the War Effort, was to continue to operate as a teaching institution. There followed support for the ACTU boycott of National Registration, and a letter to The Age with thirty colleagues in May 1940 protesting at the curtailment of liberties by the National Security Act. This provoked controversy such that they wrote a further letter proclaiming their loyalty.

Amongst Crawford's other interests were developments in Soviet Russia, which took a practical turn when, as President of the University's Fine Arts Society, he organised a Russian cultural event to raise money for the Sheepskins for Russia appeal.

And after the election of the Curtin Government just before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Crawford wrote to Evatt (Minister for External Affairs), offering his services - for example, in Moscow or elsewhere. When the M.P. William Slater was appointed the first Australian Minister to the USSR, he lobbied to have Crawford go with him as First Secretary, and so in October 1942 they were farewelled by a meeting of 4000 at the Australian-Soviet Friendship League.

While engaged in routine work with the legation, and a spell working with Polish refugees and Displaced Persons, Crawford formed ideas for a book on post-revolutionary Russia. Ill health eventually saw him back in Melbourne in 1944, where he became foundation president of Australia-Soviet House. One of several organisations fostering friendship and understanding of the ally country, it encountered rapidly changing attitudes as Cold War positions resumed early in the postwar period. And before the end of 1946, Hawthorn M.L.A., F.L. Edmunds, named Crawford as a 'pink professor' in the House; and in 1947 renewed his attack on him for not relinquishing his connection with the 'subversive Communist subsidiary Australia-Soviet House'.

Further attacks saw the University leadership and SRC supporting Crawford, but his rebuttals were revealing a seachange in which he more explicitly distanced himself from Communist doctrine, and also stated he would not seek re-election to the Australia-Soviet House position. Crawford was for a time in the early 1950s denied a visa to enter the USA, but by decade's end he would be embroiled in a fresh controversy about Communist activity at the University, in which he would now be an accuser.

[much of this information was provided by Crawford's biographer, Fay Anderson.]

  • Professor of History R.M. (Max) Crawford in the late 1930s.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick Collection

  • Local Spanish Relief material from R.M. Crawford Collection.
  • Professor Crawford's annotated copy of the Memorandum on the University and National Service by Professor D.B. Copland, 28 November 1938.


  • Crawford's draft letter to Vice-Chancellor Medley in which he attempted to elaborate on some of the misgivings expressed by him at a meeting of the National Service Committee that day.
  • A large meeting of students in May 1937 appointed a sub-committee including Professor Max Crawford and Zelman Cowen to draft a constitution for a University Fine Arts Society. Professor Hunt was first president, succeeded in October 1940 by Max Crawford.

Under his Presidency, the Society's most successful event for 1942, recorded in this copy from the original minute book, was an afternoon in the Union Theatre in conjunction with the Labour Club, at which Russian cultural films were followed by folk dancing, marionettes and a Russian ballet, all in aid of Russian War Relief (Sheepskins Appeal), September 1942.

University of Melbourne Fine Arts Society Collection

  • In June 1942, Crawford joined Prime Minister Curtin's Committee on National Morale, and an extract from his own The Study of History was among material circulated to members at that time by Chairman A. A. Conlon.

By October, however, Crawford was off to Russia as First Secretary to the Australian Ministry to the USSR

R.M. Crawford Collection

  • Crawford's pocket diary for October 1942 notes an appointment for a briefing with Evatt on the 22nd.

R.M. Crawford Collection

  • V-E Day 1945 in the History Department. [Left-to-right: Kathleen Fitzpatrick, George Paul (Philosophy), Max Crawford, Joyce Dunn, Pat Gray and Dorothy Crozier. The photograph was taken by Norman Harper.]

Kathleen Fitzpatrick Collection

  • Transcript, newscuttings, and copy of Civil Liberty May 1947 relating to F.L. Edmunds M.L.A.'s attacks on academics.

R.M. Crawford Collection