Show­ing off qual­ity genes

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - BOOKS - WAR­REN BREWER

THEODORE THOMAS FLYNN Tony and Vicki Har­ri­son Self- pub­lished RRP: $ 35

THE au­thors’ sur­pris­ing rev­e­la­tions about the Flynn fam­ily, so thor­oughly re­searched and told here, im­me­di­ately in­voked my mother’s words: “It’s all in the genes, son.”

It was her stock re­sponse to ex­plain an­other per­son’s be­hav­iour or per­son­al­ity.

De­spite their vastly dif­fer­ent lives, it emerges there are amaz­ing par­al­lels in the char­ac­ters John Flynn, his son Theodore and grand­son Er­rol.

All were hand­some, gre­gar­i­ous men, with a cer­tain flam­boy­ance and charm that at­tracted the ladies.

All were par­tial to more than an oc­ca­sional drink and, partly as a con­se­quence, were hope­less with money – they all died close to pen­ni­less.

Theodore and son Er­rol, how­ever, left huge lega­cies in their cho­sen vo­ca­tions that will never be for­got­ten.

Theodore’s story seems to have been sub­sumed in ac­counts of the life of his celebrity son Er­rol – un­til now.

De­spite a confl icted and un­sta­ble child­hood, Theo showed ex­cep­tional aca­demic abil­ity wher­ever he went.

He was en­rolled in four schools, yet man­aged to win a schol­ar­ship that qual­ifi ed him as a ju­nior teacher and al­lowed him en­try to Syd­ney Univer­sity. His first class hon­ours de­gree in science earnt him the Univer­sity Medal for bi­ol­ogy and he was the youngest ever to be ap­pointed to the univer­sity’s staff as a demon­stra­tor.

He got the po­si­tion as the first lec­turer in bi­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Tas­ma­nia and be­came pro­fes­sor in 1911, at age 28. It was an un­prece­dented ap­point­ment.

In many ways, his ex­ten­sive re­search in marine bi­ol­ogy – es­pe­cially pelagic fish – had at­tracted world­wide at­ten­tion,

He also had in­ter­per­sonal skills that at­tracted sup­port from busi­ness, en­trepreneurs and the fish­ing com­mu­nity. He be­came some­thing of a celebrity in his own field.

His de­ter­mi­na­tion and per­sua­sive­ness en­abled Tas­ma­nian Fish­eries De­vel­op­ment to start busi­ness in 1925.

It was a turn­ing point for the in­dus­try. It would not be un­rea­son­able to claim he was the driv­ing force be­hind the es­tab­lish­ment of the com­mer­cial fish­ing in­dus­try in Tas­ma­nia.

He had an in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion and infl uenced marine poli­cies Aus­tralia- wide and be­yond.

In the two tu­mul­tuous decades he was at the Univer­sity of Tas­ma­nia he had reached the zenith of his re­mark­able ca­reer.

His in­de­fati­ga­ble work rate, how­ever, left lit­tle time for his fam­ily – es­pe­cially his son Er­rol.

At the leg­endary Ho­bart High School, Er­rol was in­ex­pli­ca­bly asked to leave af­ter just two terms and went to live with his grand­mother in Syd­ney.

In 1929, seem­ingly in an act of atone­ment, his fa­ther bought him the mag­nifi cent 35- foot ketch Sirocco.

Er­rol’s life in ad­ven­ture and in the cin­ema had started. Be­fore he was 30, Er­rol had be­come a screen icon and a very wealthy man.

Theodore, how­ever, ran into trou­bled times. It seems in­ter­nal pol­i­tics had reared its ugly head in academia.

Theo had plans to ex­pand his re­search and was con­stantly seek­ing more fi­nance, staff and fa­cil­i­ties. Con­strained and frus­trated, he re­signed.

He took up the po­si­tion of Pro­fes­sor of Zool­ogy at Queens Univer­sity in Belfast. It was an enor­mous loss for Tas­ma­nia.

The fam­ily was, how­ever, strength­ened by the move and Theodore and Er­rol grew close – per­haps too close. Their de­scent into rel­a­tive im­pov­er­ish­ment to­gether makes in­cred­u­lous read­ing, bor­der­ing on dis­be­lief.

I think my mother’s ex­pla­na­tion may have been right.

This book has be­lat­edly served as an im­por­tant pur­pose. It in­forms us of a man who di­rectly played an im­por­tant part in shap­ing Tas­ma­nian his­tory.

The book is avail­able at Fullers Book­shop, the Tas­ma­nian Mu­seum and Art Gallery book­shop and through the au­thors on­line at ahvem@in­tern­ode.on.net

LIKE FA­THER, LIKE SON: Er­rol Flynn, left, with his fa­ther Theodore, cen­tre.

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