Sunday, 25 January 2015

Chris Flint of The Grove: WW1 soldier and greyhound racing legend

The World War One stories emerging from Coburg’s The Grove (or Moreland Grove, as it was first called) have provided a glimpse of a richly diverse group of residents, unlike those of any other street in Coburg, I would guess.

We’ve heard the stories of a number of the residents of The Grove now: Otto Neuendorf, a native of Berlin and photographer at Pentridge Prison during the WW1 era; Charles Dare, son of the developer of the area, Monty Dare; Richard Courtney of Courtney’s Post fame; Percy Cornwell of Cornwell’s Pottery in Brunswick; the Shawe brothers and their link to the British Raj.

And now it is the turn of the Flint family,who lived at ‘Dunvargin’, 12 The Grove. Unusual for this street (and Coburg enlistees) in that they were staunchly Catholic, the six children of the family (all boys and all born in the local area) attended firstly St Ambrose School in Brunswick then St Patrick’s College in East Melbourne, where they excelled academically. Their father’s interest in education is evident in his membership of the original Council of the Brunswick Technical School and his continuing interest in the school council, taking up the role of President in 1923.

Photo of the Flint family: Arthur and Margaret Flint and sons Theo, Chris, Tom, Claude, Arthur and Jack. Courtesy familyhistory blog of Nicole Close 

The house name, ‘Dunvargin’, speaks of an Irish background, Dunvargin being a seaside market town in County Waterford. The family’s  interest in the Irish question, which was forefront in the minds of Irish Catholics everywhere after the Easter Uprising of 1916, is evident in their membership of a newly established North Brunswick Hibernian Society, based at the recently established St. Matthew’s Church, the family church and in their participation in various Hibernian Society events.

The many references to the sons’ academic successes speaks of a household of clever, ambitious boys, and the electoral rolls show that they fulfilled their early promise, most taking up careers in the civil service or the law.

Perhaps, given their background, it is not surprising that only one of the six Flint brothers enlisted – Christopher, the second son.

731 Sergeant Christopher Arthur Loftus Flint

When Chris Flint enlisted in June 1917, he was attached to the 23/3 Machine Gun Company. He was promoted to Staff Sergeant and worked as a clerk in the audit department of AIF HQ in London where he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in January 1919 and Lieutenant in April 1919. So, in many ways, although his valuable contribution to the war effort was acknowledged in his war record, he was unusual in that he did not see any action.

London, England. 28 September 1918. Horseferry Road, looking towards Victoria Street, showing on the right AIF Administrative Headquarters, and on the left the buildings occupied by the Australian War Records Section. Image D00077. Image courtesy AWM.

Chris Flint returned to Australia in September 1920 to the family home in The Grove, where he remained until he completed university studies and qualified as a lawyer. He married – to Mary Veronica Murphy – and had two sons, Christopher, who died in infancy, and Geoffrey, who followed in his father’s footsteps and took up a career in the law. His marriage appears to have failed, and the electoral rolls over the years show that Chris and Mary lived apart from around the time he moved to Mornington in the mid-1930s where he set up a legal practice.  

It is almost impossible from the official records to get any sense of Chris Flint, the man, but a sense of his personality emerges from an unlikely source – Greyhound Victoria’s Hall of Fame. Here we learn from family members that he could be difficult to get along with and that he ‘wasn’t afraid to step on people’s toes if it meant he could achieve something he believed in’. His nephew said that ‘if anyone got into an argument with him, he’d [verbally] cut them to pieces.’ He was definitely not someone to cross.

The following newspaper report from the Argus, 1 February 1947, tells the story of a disgruntled client taking revenge for perceived wrongs. 

Photo of coursing from Anecdotes of dogs, Edward Jesse, London, 1888.

What the official records also don’t tell us, is that the Flint family had been involved in coursing (greyhound racing) for many years. By the time Chris got involved, there was great respect for the Flint family in coursing circles. His father, Arthur, had been involved for more than forty years and there was an A.L. Flint Memorial Cup presented annually. Chris was equally impressive and he was known as a fearless and insightful administrator of the sport, whom his nephew claimed ‘brought greyhound racing out of the dark ages.’ He was an impressive figure, nicknamed the ‘Squire’. 

Chris Flint. Photograph courtesy Greyhound Racing Victoria

Geoff Flint, son of Chris. Photograph courtesy Greyhound Racing Victoria

As well as being outspoken and apparently fearless in his dealings with his opponents, Chris Flint was remembered as a generous man, who bought his son and his wife their first home. He also gave generously to the cause of greyhound racing in Victoria. He donated money and used his public speaking skills, his legal background, his understanding of human nature to negotiate some very difficult times in the sport. He was involved at an administrative level from the 1930s until his death and helped work through many difficult negotiations. He became the first Chairman of the Greyhound Racing Control Board.

At the same time, he maintained a legal career and at some stage, probably in the 1940s, moved to Darraweit Gum, 50 kilometres north of Melbourne on the edge of the Shire of Macedon Ranges, where he lived and worked 11,000 acres of land, land that was devastated by rabbits and water erosion when he first went there, according to his nephew. ‘He planted trees and cleared the rabbits. He really turned the place around’, his nephew said. He had 10 people working for him to begin with, but towards the end of his life much of the land was subdivided, although he kept 4,000 acres which he called ‘ Amesbury House’.

Chris Flint was unwell for some years and died in 1958, aged 62.

Sources include: Victorian BDM indexes and electoral rolls (via Ancestry), Coburg Leader, 31 January 1913, p.1; Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 23 January 1914; Tribune, 4 April 1914, p.7; Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 2 April 1915, p.2; Tribune, 4 May 1916, p.5; Advocate, 16 December 1916, p.25; Advocate, 14 July 1917; Argus, 12 December 1918; Argus, 10 December 1920, p.11; Argus, 19 February 1923, p.8; Table Talk, 23 April 1925, p.5; The Australasian, 25 August 1934; Australasian, 23 May 1936, p.51; Australasian, 23 August 1936, p.57; Australasian, 28 November 1936, p.24;  Argus, 12 August 1939, p.14; Argus, 1 Feburary 1947, p.21; WW1 service record of Christopher Arthur Loftus Flint ; WW2 service record of Geoffrey Vincent Flint; Greyhound Racing Victoria’s Hall of Fame 

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