Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Flick, William Albert (1890–1980)

by Richard White

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

William Albert Flick (1890-1980), pest exterminator, was born on 14 February 1890 at Lismore, New South Wales, second of eight children of native-born parents William Flick, a self-styled 'Richmond River Pioneer' and dairy farmer, and his wife Sarah, née Atkin. His grandfather Jacob Flick had emigrated from Alsace, and the family developed interests in cedar-getting, timber-shipping, cattle-dealing and dairying.

Albie grew up on his father's farm at Ewingsdale, Byron Bay, and was educated locally. At the Pacific Hall, Mullumbimby, on 3 February 1915 he married with Anglican rites Phyllis Pearl Jamison (d.1977). The couple began experiments to rid their Tyagarah dairy farm of termites. Building on their experience of bee-keeping, they saw the possibility of using working termites to poison the queen. Eventually they developed an arsenical compound, a 'secret' red powder, fine enough to be carried, eaten and spread by grooming throughout a colony. It effectively exterminated termites on their own and surrounding properties. The process was patented in 1937.

Phyllis had quickly recognized the commercial potential. Bill, as he was known to his associates, began acquiring testimonials and charging for his services from about 1918; he also trained others in Sydney and Brisbane. The Flicks moved to Glen Innes in 1924, for the sake of their daughter's asthma, and then to Perth to treat pest problems in underground telephone cables. Each time they left trained 'Flickmen' to carry on the work. They drove back from Perth and in 1928 settled at Hornsby, Sydney. In the 1930s W. A. Flick & Co. successfully expanded into the cyanide fumigation of cockroaches and bedbugs in ships and hotels. During World War II the business expanded as a protected industry, with government contracts for pest control in hospitals and barracks.

Flick continued to do some of the eradication work himself, and introduced his sons to it. He remained unsophisticated, with a reputation for honesty and good humour, and valued his relations with clients. A strong man of middle height, he enjoyed sport, particularly tennis and fishing, and demonstrated his woodchopping skills at the Royal Easter Show into the 1930s. It was at the show that a signwriter came up with the slogan, 'Remember—one flick and they're gone'. On billboards and radio the catch-phrase made the company a household name and gave a particularly entomological edge to the word 'flick' in Australia.

After the war the firm's hectic growth and loose control necessitated reorganization. The business was incorporated as W. A. Flick & Co. Pty Ltd, more staff were recruited and Flick passed the management to his sons. Although he remained chairman of directors, he had effectively retired by 1950. The company continued to expand on the basis of eradication rather than prevention, diversifying into allied areas such as crop-spraying, and introducing organochlorines and organophosphates. Fifteen overseas branches were established, mainly around the Pacific.

In semi-retirement at Newport, Flick became a keen lawn bowler and an active Freemason. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1972. Survived by his daughter and three sons, he died on 10 May 1980 at his Newport home and was buried in Mona Vale cemetery. When the family sold out in 1986, W. A. Flick & Co. had long been Australia's largest pest control company, and one that was among the largest in the world.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Flick, A Dying Race (Ballina, NSW, 1935)
  • Flick Pest Control, Property Protector (undated issue, held in ADB file)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 June 1972, 24 Dec 1964, 13 May 1980
  • private information.

Citation details

Richard White, 'Flick, William Albert (1890–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/flick-william-albert-10203/text18031, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 19 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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