Thursday, 21 August 2008

Edwin Flack - our first Olympian

Casey Cardinia has our own Olympic Champion, Edwin Flack. Edwin took part in the first of the Modern Olympics, held in Athens in 1896. He came first in the 800 metres, in a time of 2 minutes 11 seconds and first in the 1500 metres (4 minutes, 33.2 seconds).

Edwin Harold Flack was born in London on November 5, 1873 at the family home, 52 Mildway Road, Islington, Middlesex. He came to Australia with his parents, Joseph Henry and Marian (nee Smith), in September 1874, on the Durham. The family settled at Ilfracombe, Murphy Street in South Yarra and another son, Henry Reginald, was born in 1876.* Edwin attended Melbourne Grammar School, then in 1892 he joined his father in the Accountancy firm of Davey, Flack and Company. Edwin took place in various athletic competitions including winning State titles in one and two mile races and in 1894 held the New South Wales record for the two mile event.

He left to work for Price, Waterhouse and Co. in London in 1895 and also joined the London Athletics Club. Edwin was keen to attend the Athens Olympics and used his Annual Leave, paid his own way to attend and paid all his own expenses once he arrived. The trip from London took 6 days. The Games were officially opened by the Greek King on April 6, 1895. Flack raced in his old Melbourne Grammar uniform. The track and field events were dominated by the Americans and Flack was the first non-American to win an event, the 1500m, on April 7. The next day he competed in the Singles Tennis and the Doubles Tennis, he then went on to win the 800m race. He recorded in his diary that he 'won comfortably'. The day after that, April 9, Edwin entered the 26 mile Marathon, but collapsed after 23 miles and didn't finish the event. It is no wonder that he gained the nickname The lion of Athens. Edwin returned to Melbourne in 1898 and worked as an Accountant.

The Panathenean Stadium in Athens.
The opening ceremony, on Easter Monday, April 6, 1896, drew a crowd of almost 80,000.
311 athletes took part in the Games of which 230 were Greek.

His actual connection to Casey Cardinia doesn't come about until 1916 when he purchased three parcels of land in Berwick , 75 acres, 48 acres and 44 acres (all up, around 67 hectares). This included the property Burnbank, of which the earliest section dates from c. 1854, where Flack established a Friesian stud. He died on January 10, 1935 at the age of 61, was cremated, and has a headstone in the Berwick cemetery. He never married. His brother Henry Reginald, married Dorothy Martha Wilson in 1915. Dorothy was the daughter of Osbert and Lily (nee Gutheridge) Wilson. They had one son, Paul Reginald Ashley Flack (1917 - 1994),  and he had no children.*

Edwin established a Trust in his Will that had been distributing grants since his death in 1935. It is the Marion and E.H. Flack Trust which supports the following areas - Medical research, Services to aged care, Services that assist the elderly, Services to disadvantaged groups or organisations, Services that directly support children, adolescents, adults and families who are disadvantaged due to education, financial, and/or social circumstances, Services to community health Services, Creative arts and Organisations that undertake activities that offer services covering two or more of the categories above. See the website, here,

Edwin Flack has been honoured with a Statue in High Street Berwick, opposite the Berwick Inn.

* The details of Edwin's birth place, the family arrival in Australia, his brother's marriage and family and the Flack Trust are from Mrs Janet Ellis, of Sydney, whose husband's mother was a Flack. (Personal conversations August 2019)

Some of this information comes from Edwin Flack : the lion of Athens by Peter Sweeney (Published by the Author, 2004). Available for loan at Casey Cardinia Libraries. 

The photographs on this post were taken from a now defunct page on the City of Casey website. 

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