Showing off quality genes
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON: Errol Flynn, left, with his father Theodore, centre.