Book review by Columnist for The Australian – Ross Fitzgerald (Published in The Weekend Australian, 9 July 2016)
Decades ago, when I was a student at Melbourne High School, I was entranced by reading a battered biography of John Flynn, founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. First published in 1932, Flynn of the Inland was written by that vastly underrated Australian writer, Ion Idriess.
Now, 84 years and eight books about him later, yet another biography of Flynn, who was born at Moliagul, central Victoria in 1880, has seen the light of day. Self-published by veteran author Everald Compton, this is a peculiar but fascinating book
Blessed with a catchy title, The Man on the Twenty Dollar Notes, the book reveals that as well as creating the RFDS, in partnership with legendary aviator Hudson Fysh, Flynn helped found the School of the Air, pioneered the pedal-powered radio and built numerous bush hospitals throughout inland and remote Australia for the Australian Inland Mission.
Compton regards Flynn as a prime example of muscular Christianity and of faith in action. Indeed, as he notes, in 1912 Flynn — an ordained minister — was commissioned by the Presbyterian Church of Australia to create what it termed “a mantle of safety” across what was then for many non-indigenous people an extremely lonely continent.
In this clearly produced and well documented book, Compton confesses that he has been a huge fan of Flynn since he first learned about his exploits at bush Sunday schools in the mid-1930s.
Yet The Man on the Twenty Dollar Notes is not an easy book to read or to understand.
Even though Compton claims, I suspect in the main rightly, that his tale is based on the known facts of Flynn’s life, the copious dialogue in the book is what he thinks would or could have occurred at the time, given what he says is his knowledge of Flynn’s “unforgettable personality”.
To take another example, the sermon in the book that Flynn “delivers” at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Brisbane is not the one he in fact delivered there shortly before his death in 1951. Instead, Compton admits, it is “an amalgam of words” based on selected themes from speeches Flynn made across many years, including some of the words that he actually spoke that evening.
While most of the characters in this book are real people with whom Flynn is known to have lived and worked, others are invented. These include a young volunteer nurse Flynn “meets” just before his death and a handful of pilgrims who, decades after his death, relive and review Flynn’s life of service to others. The role of these made-up characters Compton endeavours to explain in a postscript, not altogether successfully.
One of the many pluses in this biography is how Compton documents and explores how Flynn’s successes were based on partnerships, not just with Fysh and Alfred Traeger — with whom he created a pedal radio that connected the bush with the wider world — but with the ‘‘cattle king’’ of inland Australia, Sidney Kidman, and also with leading politicians.
The latter included Country Party leader Arthur Fadden, who was famously prime minister for 40 days and 40 nights in 1941.
Flynn also worked well with Liberal PM Robert Menzies, who publicly mourned his death, and especially with the ALP’s Jim Scullin, a devout Catholic who regarded the pioneering Presbyterian doctor as a mate.
From time to time Flynn also co-operated with Labor’s Ben Chifley and even with the notorious political turncoat WM “Billy” Hughes.
Even though I remain a committed atheist, it is hard to disagree with Compton when he concludes that Flynn leaves a great legacy and a fine example to modern Christianity, which so often continues to struggle with a crisis of belief.
But ultimately this is not a book about religion. It is based on what its erudite author calls “a power beyond ourselves” that manifested itself in Flynn’s life of service to others. This force or power Compton vividly describes in a non-religious way. He regards it as being deeply relevant to our secular society in the 21st century.
It seems to me that Compton’s creation is a vintage and authentic Reverend Dr John Flynn who, according to this well-written book, seldom preached but simply yarned with the diverse men and women he met along the way, including members of his many congregations.
Ross Fitzgerald is emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University.
The Man on the Twenty Dollar Notes: Flynn of the Inland
By Everald Compton
The Man on the Twenty Dollar Notes: Book Review by Sarah Hudson of The Weekly Times 14 July, 2016
JOHN Flynn was a Presbyterian minister who founded what became the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the world’s first air ambulance.
His story is legend in our national history, with books dedicated to the man and his mission.
Author Everald Compton, however, believes few Australians are aware of the man who founded the RFDS and is memorialised on our $20 bills.
As such, he has penned this 250-page book to retell the story of Flynn of the Inland.
As Compton explains in the introduction, The Man on the Twenty Dollar Notes is not a biography, nor is it a novel.
“The tale is told through conversations that bring to life the fascinating relationships that Flynn had with great pioneering characters of the outback,” writes the 84-year-old Compton, a self-confessed Flynn fan since Sunday school in the 1930s.
“In reality, this book is my attempt to write an account of Flynn’s life in a way that I think he would have liked to have it told.”
As such, Compton has taken the possibly audacious step of writing a nonfiction novel, depicting Flynn and actual events woven together with fictitious conversations.
“The dialogue is what I reckon would have occurred in those circumstances because it is grounded in his being and the unforgettable personality he was,” he says.
It’s a style that takes some getting used to. If readers are comfortable then they — like Compton — will become a devotee of Flynn’s lifework.
Aside from the RFDS, Flynn, who died in 1951, pioneered the pedal radio, founded the school of the air, and built bush hospitals around rural Australia.
“I am also very aware that he made errors of judgment and I have highlighted them at the same time as recalling his quite staggering accomplishments,” says Compton.
The Brisbane author has also written books on fundraising and family history.
BOOK REVIEW – OUTBACK MAGAZINE ISSUE 108 Aug/Sep 2016
A new take on John Flynn
This is perhaps the most unusual book ever written about John Flynn, the legend of the inland who died in 1951. In addition to helping create the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Flynn built bush hospitals all over the continent as the head of the Australian Inland Mission, and founded the School of the Air.
Author Everald Compton, 84, has been an unashamed admirer of Flynn and his simple, practical theology since his schooldays. “Flynn’s role as my spiritual mentor is my prime motivation in writing this account of his life,” Everald writes. The 250-page work takes in Flynn’s “enormous impact on Australian life and his redefining of what it means to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth and how a good Christian still makes many mistakes.”
Everald’s unusual style means the whole book is written as a series of conversations that Flynn may have had along his life’s journey. Everald says that Flynn liked nothing better than to have a yarn. “This book is my attempt to write an account of Flynn’s life in a way that I think he would like to have it told,” he says.
Most of the characters are real, although a handful are fictional, and the result is a flowing text somewhere between an historical novel and a biography. There are a few places where the dialogue becomes a little clunky, but on the whole it’s an enjoyable, thoughtful and insightful book that reminds us of the crucial, long-lasting legacy of John Flynn.
Discounted copies are available for churches and charities to aid fundraising efforts.
“The man on the twenty dollar notes:
Flynn of the inland”
Book Review by Stephen Loosely on The Spectator Australia Newsletter – 6 August 2016
A Hero Recalled
In these times it seems that heroes are acclaimed readily and easily. A single television appearance coupled with a politically correct question elevates the newcomer to heroic status in the twitter universe. Only days later, it seems too often the case, a modest due diligence reveals our latest ‘hero’ actually has feet of clay.
But David Bowie was absolutely right in his Heroes album: it is possible to be a hero just for one day.
John Flynn, the subject of Everald Compton’s engaging new biography, The Man on the Twenty Dollar Notes: Flynn of the Inland was an authentic Australian hero, who bequeathed the nation a very great deal by virtue of good judgement, hard work and continuing sacrifice. Flynn is best remembered as the founder of the forerunners of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which has saved countless Australian lives through bringing medical care to the most remote corners of Outback Australia. However, this is but one of Flynn’s achievements, in a life seen as perhaps even more remarkable when viewed at a distance.
Born in Moliagul, Victoria in 1880, John Flynn developed an early affinity and affection for the Australian bush and its people. While in theological school, he worked on a shearer’s mission, resulting in the 1910 publication of his ground breaking Bushman’s Companion. Ordination in the Presbyterian Church followed and two comprehensive reports on the Northern Territory, on the needs of indigenous and settler communities, convinced the Church to appoint Reverend Flynn as superintendent of the Australian Inland Mission, founded also in the year of 1912.
With a handful of staff and a modest base at Oodnadatta, Flynn’s remarkable service began, eventually entering Australian folklore. Flynn and his organisation’s achievements would earn his team international acknowledgement. Most significantly, both Flynn’s reputation and legend endure to this day.
It is the legend which draws Everald Compton to his subject, as he intersperses the historical record of Flynn’s life with imagined conversations with other great and good Australians – from Prime Ministers to Presbyterian leaders; from figures in the landscape of our national identity like John Bradfield or Hudson Fysh to those dedicated men and women who built the AIM & the RFDS.
Compton’s metaphor is a train journey, with Flynn travelling back from a Church Conference in Adelaide to his home in Sydney. The train has been used by creative artists as different as Heinrich Boll or Alfred Hitchcock to Agatha Christie. It has direction and purpose, always contrasted with the possibility of surprise, as Compton understands, having Reverend Flynn meet Ben Chifley on a platform at Albury Railway Station, as the passengers disembark to change trains, courtesy of the interstate railway gauge lacking uniformity.
Everald Compton is a character of the Australian outback himself, having been inspired by Flynn’s story while attending bush Sunday Schools in the 1930s. Compton endorses Flynn’s practical Christian faith, getting things done while downplaying doctrinal imperatives. Compton admires Flynn as a great nation builder, and he too has sought to build railways and to see Bradfield’s vision of turning rivers inland to water the continent, finally realised.
And like Flynn, Compton knows the value of bipartisanship. Flynn counted ALP PM’s Scullin and Chifley among his friends, along with Queensland Premier Forgan Smith. But equally, PM’s Menzies, Hughes and Fadden were close to Flynn and supported his initiatives, to bring a mantle of safety to remote Australia.
Great strengths of this book lie in the tales describing how it all began. The best is the story of Jimmy Darcy, badly injured in a cattle stampede in the Kimberley and taken to Hall’s Creek where there was perhaps hope but no doctor. The year was 1917.
Hope rested with Fred Tuckett, the Halls Creek Postmaster, who was qualified in First Aid courtesy of St John’s Ambulance in Perth. His tutor had been a Dr Holland, whom Tuckett telegraphed for advice on what to do. After answering Holland’s questions, Tuckett was staggered by the response.
‘All the evidence makes me believe he has a ruptured bladder. You must operate immediately. I will send step by step instructions.’ Tuckett sank to his knees, his face wrapped in a look of sheer agony. He reluctantly rose so he could send a message back to Holland. ‘I am only a first-aid man and have never done an operation in my life. I will kill him.’
‘If you don’t operate he will die. This way you give him a chance,’ Holland pleaded. ‘I have no scalpel.’ ‘Use a pen knife.’ ‘The patient will have to stay awake.’ ‘May God help me?’. ‘He will.’
The whole country followed Jimmy Darcy’s agonising struggle, courtesy of repeater stations and newspaper bulletins. The need for a flying doctor service was beyond argument.
And Reverend Flynn knew how this might be achieved, for a young lieutenant in the Australian Flying Corps, Clifford Peel, en route to Europe during the Great War, had written to him, outlining how it could be done. Tragically, Peel was killed in action, but he left a bequest for the service and he was an inspiration to Flynn.
So too was Mrs Jeannie Gunn, author of We of the Never Never, who drew Flynn’s attention to the problem of isolation in the outback. Again, couple Flynn’s drive with Alfred Traeger’s insatiable curiosity and inventiveness with radio, and the ‘community of the air’ was born.
At times, it is difficult to discern where Flynn ends and Compton begins, so closely aligned are the famous Reverend and the Presbyterian Elder. At times, too, the dialogue is a little stilted, while nonetheless conveying meaning.
Nonetheless this is a very good book, reminding every Australian of just how tough life in the Outback was, and still can be, and of the need for a voice for those Australians far from urban comforts.
One of Flynn’s critics, Charles Duguid, consistently argued that Flynn’s Mission had neglected indigenous Australians but the evidence strongly suggests otherwise. Flynn was no saint and Compton does not suggest so. But he was justly deserving of Ion Idriess’s famous description; Flynn of the Inland.
The post A hero recalled appeared first on The Spectator.
Everald Compton does great justice to a man to whom the nation owes so much in his book titled “The Man on the Twenty Dollar Notes”
Read this review by Greg Cary – renowned and popular broadcaster, writer and publisher
Synopsis: (Compton, 2016) The Royal Flying Doctor Service is a revered legend of the development of Australia as a caring nation. However, few Australians are aware of the man who founded it—John Flynn—known as Flynn of the Inland. Flynn, who died in 1951, is regarded by historians as one of Australia’s greatest sons. In addition to creating the Flying Doctors, he pioneered the Pedal radio, founded the School of the Air, and built bush hospitals all over the continent on behalf of the Australian Inland Mission. Flynn is also the man on the twenty dollar note.
When speaking at the launch of Everald Compton’s latest book recently I recalled the quote of George Bernard Shaw who said that history was “.. always forged by the unreasonable man”. His thinking was that reasonable people adapt themselves to society, but the unreasonable adapt society to themselves. In all fields of endeavour it is demonstrably true.
The great scientists, politicians, athletes and, yes, authors have all been unreasonable in what they expect of themselves and those around them.
Reasonable people very rarely break world records or discover medical breakthroughs. Even the best among us—Mother Teresa for instance—are unreasonable in their desire to change the world. She was right that her efforts had been but a drop in the ocean – but it’s equally true that the ocean would never be the same again.
The author’s labour of love
John Flynn, one of the giants of Australian history, was clearly a most unreasonable man – as is Everald Compton, who has chronicled Flynn’s life, struggles and achievements in his new novel.
That most Australians would have little idea of Flynn’s legacy was part of what motivated Everald to write this book.
It’s also a labour of love given how he has always admired Flynn and the way he combined his religious faith with good works.
Flynn of the Inland loved this country and the vast under-populated areas that have always escaped the attention of politicians more focused on the next election than the next century. The Royal Flying Doctor Service, The School of the Air (and the pedal radio which accompanied it) are, like all lasting innovations, now taken for granted .But their creation was the product of visionary thinking, relentless planning, confronting naysayers.. and hard work.
Flynn as a role model
Everald, too, is a country boy and visionary so his choice of role models comes as no surprise. For the many years I’ve known him he has been heading the push for the Inland Railway; a more constructive and productive attitude towards Seniors; strategic planning to accommodate our changing demographics and more long-term thinking in terms of infrastructure.
Politicians of all persuasions have long become used to his whirlwind visits, his singularly unique voice and personality always pushing the boundaries on behalf of others. Some have been more welcoming than others but it’s the nature of the unreasonable person to push on. Rejection is but an invitation to get ready for the next challenge. And the triumph that lies (often hidden) down the road.
Conversations captured in time
Indeed, one of the strengths of this novel are the conversations Everald has created between Flynn and some of his influential contemporaries, including Prime Ministers Fadden and Scullin and the brilliant engineer John Bradfleid.
We glimpse here snippets from an Australia long gone.
It was Bradfield who wanted to drought-proof Australia by diverting the northern river waters inland. His plans remain in the too-hard (or too expensive) basket but it’s fair to say it would be a lot more expensive now than it was nearly a hundred (or even 10) years ago. That he designed and built the Sydney Harbour and Story Bridges suggests he knew a thing or two about making dreams a reality. Maybe even a little more than those who said—and still say—it’s impossible.
A risk adverse society
It’s interesting to observe that at a time when we have never been better equipped to bring big ideas to fruition, we are so curiously risk averse.
When President Kennedy announced in 1961 that America would have a man on the moon by the end of that decade he pointed out that they would do it “not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.” It was one of the great scientific and technological milestones in history.
Like Flynn, Kennedy focused on the target and did all that was required to achieve it. Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” lifted spirits, advanced science and tilted the political power axis in ways largely unimagined. It did indeed become “a giant leap for mankind.”
There is virtue in doing that which no other has done. Whether it’s Bannister breaking the four-minute mile, Hillary climbing Everest, or Bertrand and his team winning the Americas Cup. Boundaries and limitations are changed forever.
Great people – and nations – set big challenges and are unreasonable in their pursuit of success.
When Flynn died in 1951 the ABC went silent for two minutes in honour of his passing and contribution. A silence never repeated.
Everald Compton does great justice to a man to whom the nation owes so much. But, it is, perhaps, a sad reflection on the teaching of our history that John Flynn’s achievements are so little known by new generations, but he wouldn’t care.
Instead, he’d probably smile that he remained “The Man on the Twenty Dollar Notes.”