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. 

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

National Archives of Australia - Post Office photograph collection

Gembrook Post Office, late 1960s. (Image no. B5919/741)

Narre Warren Post Office, late 1960s. (Image no. B5919, 1537)

I was searching the National Archives of Australia site ( the other day and I came across a most fabulous resource. They have photographs of Post Offices, on line. Most of the photos are taken in the late 1960s, but there are some older ones, some from 1901 and some taken from the Victorian Post Office Photo Album of 1943/44. In the rapidly changing Casey Cardinia region, these photographs are a glimpse of our past, when most of our towns were just that, country towns.
Vervale Post Office, 1967. ( Image no.B5919/2186)

To access the Post Office photographs, on the National Archives of Australia website, , click on Photo Search in the top right hand corner, then Search, then enter the name of your location and the words Post Office.

Cockatoo Post Office, late 1960s. (Image no. B5919, 531)

Yannathan Post Office, late 1960s. (Image no. B5919/2378)

These photographs belong to Series B5919, which as well as containing photographs of Post Offices, also has photographs of Post Office equipment, transport and Uniforms. The whole Series occupies 30 metres of shelving and has over 5,400 photographs.

Doveton Post Office, 1966. (Image no. B5919/601)

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Carlo Catani

Drainage works on the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp
Illustration published in the Illustrated Australian News January 1 1892
State Library of Victoria Image IAN01/01/92/20

There are a number of towns in Casey Cardinia, named after local identities. We have already looked at Pearcedale, which was named after early settlers, Nathaniel and Mary Grace Pearce. The town of Catani is named after Carlo Catani who was one of the Engineers in charge of the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Drainage scheme. I thought it would be interesting to find out a bit about the man behind the name.

Carlo was born on April 22 1852 in Florence in Italy. He was the son of Enrico Catani, who was a merchant, and Augusta Geri. He was educated as a Civil Engineer at the Technical Institute of Florence. Carlo and his two friends, Pietro Baracchi and Ettore Checchi, arrived in Melbourne, via New Zealand, in September 1876.

The trio were employed as draftsmen by the Department of Lands and Survey. In 1880, Catani was registered as a Surveyor and in 1882 he and Checchi joined the Public Works Department as Engineering draftsmen. By 1886, they were both assistant Engineers. Checchi (1853 - 1946) went on to become an Engineer with the State Rivers & Water Supply Commission when it was established in 1906. Baracchi (1851 - 1926)  became the Acting Government Astronomer for Victoria and later joined the Commonwealth Government as an Astrologist and Meteorologist.  Catani was promoted to the Head of his Section in 1892. In 1893, the Public Works Department resumed the control of the Swamp drainage works from private contractors and Catani was appointed as the Engineer.
Catani implemented the Village Settlement Scheme. Under this Scheme, all workers had to be married, accept a 20 acre block and spend a fortnight working on the drains for wages and a fortnight improving their block and maintaining adjoining drains. The villages were Koo-Wee-Rup, Five Mile, Cora Lynn, Vervale, Iona and Yallock.

Lubecker Steam Bucket Dredge in action. 
I suspect that this must have been taken shortly after it arrived in 1913 by the number of interested observers.
State Library of Victoria Image rwg/u866  You can see more of these photographs here

Catani was also responsible for the first mechanical equipment used on the Swamp. He had ordered the Lubecker Steam Bucket Dredge in 1912 and it arrived in 1913 at a cost of £4,700. It weighed 80 tons and had a capacity of 61 cubic metres per hour. A labourer at the time dug about 8 cubic metres per day. It was used on the Lang Lang River, then on the Main Drain, Cardinia Creek and Yallock Drain.

Catani’s other work with the Public Works Department included flood mitigation works on the Yarra River. He was responsible for planting the elms, oaks and poplars along Alexandra Avenue. He designed the Morrell bridge. The laying out and planting of the Alexandra Gardens was also carried out under Catani’s direction. His last major project was the reclamation of the St Kilda foreshore. The gardens he designed at the end of Fitzroy Street were named after him as was the Catani arch bridge on the St Kilda foreshore. There is a bronze bust of Carlo Catani on the Clock tower on the St Kilda esplanade. 
Contemporaries of Catani said that he 'saw possibilities to which others were blind' and that he had 'unfailing courtesy and a kindly nature.'

Carlo was naturalised in 1892. He married Catherine Hanley of Port Fairy on May 18 1886 at the Free Church of England in Fitzroy, by the Reverend Nathaniel Kinsman. They had six children, Edward (b.1886 and d.1887), Elvira May (1888-1947), Enrico Ferdinando (b.1891-killed in Action in France in 1916), Ettore Luigi (1893-1967), Eugenia Anastasia (1895-1915) and Enid Marguerite (1899-1950). Catani died July 20,  1918 at the age of 66 and is buried at the Brighton cemetery. Catherine died in 1925, aged 68. None of the children married.

Carlo Catani
 Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Historical Society photo.

I looked at Enrico's Military Record and found that he was Killed in Action on July 29 1916. Enrico was a Second Lieutenant, had served at Gallipoli before serving in France. He was buried at Cemetery Post Station, near Pozieres. However in a interesting and poignant twist, in 1932 the body of an 'unknown' soldier was exhumed from another location and this was identified through the identification disc and other personal effects to be Enrico Catani. There are a series of letters in Enrico's Military file between the Australian War Graves Service and Enid Catani regarding this discovery. In the end Enrico was buried again in the Serre Road Cemetery near Beaumont Hamel, in France. The body of the Officer, who was initially thought to be Enrico, now has a headstone stating that he is an 'unknown Australian Lieutenant'. In one of the letters Enid sent to the Government regarding the discovery of her brother's body, Enid said that her surviving brother, Ettore, had never recovered from the shock of Enrico's death and is under the care of the Master-in Equity of the Supreme Court. The Master-in-Equity looked after people who did not have the legal capacity to care for themselves. It sad to think that effectively, the family lost two sons to the First World War.

You can read more about Carlo Catani, here, on a blog devoted to his life and works.

Most of this information comes from the article on Carlo Catani, written by Ronald McNicoll, in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. 

The information on his children comes from the Victorian and New South Wales, Indexes to the Births , Deaths and Marriages. 

The information on Enrico's Military Service can be found on the National Archives of Australia website The National Archives has digitised the records of all the First World War soldiers and they can be printed or downloaded, free.