Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Flack, Edwin Harold (1873–1935)

by Ron Clarke

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Edwin Harold Flack (1873-1935), athlete and accountant, was born on 5 November 1873 at Islington East, London, son of Joseph Henry Flack, accountant, and his wife Marian, née Smith. In 1878 the family migrated to Melbourne where Joseph established an accountancy firm. After education at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Teddy joined his father, then a partner in the firm of Davey, Flack & Co. In March 1895 he went to London to gain experience with Price, Waterhouse & Co., chartered accountants (whom he later represented in Australia), and graduated F.C.P.A. and F.S.A.A. (England). He returned to Melbourne in 1899. With his father and later his brother Henry he built up the firm of Flack & Flack, accountants, with branches in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, and Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand.

Flack was a director of several companies including (William) Howard Smith Ltd, Robert Harper & Co. Ltd, and Australian Iron and Steel Ltd. At his Burnbank stud farm near Berwick, he bred Friesian cattle. Following his father, Flack was on the committee of management of the Alfred Hospital from 1918 to 1935. He was a member of the Melbourne, Australian and Royal Melbourne Golf clubs. After suffering from heart trouble for a long time, he died after an operation on 10 January 1935, leaving an estate valued for probate at £43,855. He was unmarried.

Flack is remembered as the first Australian to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games. Before going overseas he was well known as an amateur athlete. In 1892 he founded the Melbourne Hare and Hounds Club. He was the one-mile champion of Australasia in 1893 and 1894, and had won several colonial championships. In England he joined the London Athletic Club and the Thames and the Hampton Court hare and hounds clubs. He ran often and quite successfully. Nevertheless newspaper reports of his presence in Athens for the revived Olympic Games in 1896, at which Australia was not officially represented, came as a surprise to his family who learned that he had taken a months holiday.

Flack decided to run both the 800 and 1500 metre races, and, even more enthusiastically, put his name down for the marathon. The favourites for the first two events were Lermusiaux of France and the American, Blake. Flack won his heat of the 800 metres convincingly. Next day was the 1500 metre race. Because of the roughness of the track and the tight corners, the pace soon slackened but as they started down the last straight Blake came like fury and almost levelled. But the Australian had his measure, pulling up fresh and strong in 4 minutes 33.2 seconds. The victory was popular because the Americans had been dominating the competitions. Two days later Flack became the favourite for the 800 metres final because Lermusiaux had withdrawn to concentrate on the marathon, and won easily in 2 minutes 11.9 seconds.

Later that afternoon he was in a coach travelling the dusty, stony road to Marathon; the journey took four hours. He fancied less and less the idea of returning on that track the next day, yet he knew he would regret it forever if he missed it. The longest distance he had previously run was ten miles on a grass surface.

The marathon started under a very hot sun in front of a huge and enthusiastic crowd. Lermusiaux bounded out in front; Flack at first chose to stay with the Greeks who had had most experience, but found the pace too easy. By the ten kilometre mark he had passed everybody but the leader. At thirty kilometres he passed Lermusiaux, who soon after quit the race; Blake had already done so. With six kilometres to go he was still in front but finding it very hard. A figure swept by. A Greek. He could not win now, but neither could he stop. He swayed from one side of the road to the other and eventually sagged to the ground. He was taken to the stadium by ambulance and was able to watch the finish; it was impossible to grudge the Greeks their victory.

For the rest of the week Flack was treated like royalty. A friend said, 'Why, you're the lion of all Athens'. He left to the accompaniment of bands and waving flags, returning by himself to London. His athletic career had culminated in those seven wonderful days when the Olympic spirit was resurrected in Athens that hot summer of 1896.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Clarke and N. Harris, The Lonely Breed (Lond, 1967)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 11 Jan 1935.

Citation details

Ron Clarke, 'Flack, Edwin Harold (1873–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/flack-edwin-harold-6186/text10631, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 2 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Birth

5 November 1873
London, England

Death

10 January 1935

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation