Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON
Under the vast, blue Australian sky, there stands a statue of a unique athlete. My post for today’s Sky Watch Friday honours a man who came from dairy-farming stock. The ashes of Edwin Flack lie buried in Berwick Cemetery, in semi-rural Victoria, and not far from his final resting place is a beautiful bronze statue cast in his likeness.
I drove down the main street of Berwick and reverse-parked in the very first spot I found, near the historic Berwick Inn. Apparently, not everyone knows of Flack or his heroics. The first person I asked must surely have been a tourist, not a local, because he just shrugged and confessed he did not know about the statue.
As it turned out, it wasn’t far away from where I stood. I’m notorious for not being able to spot things when they are within arm’s reach (is it just a "man thing"?) but a few seconds later, I spotted a statue in the park that neatly bisects the busy dual carriageway to and from Melbourne.
Edwin Flack was Australia’s only representative in the first modern Olympics, the 1896 Athens Games. He was also our first Olympic champion.
How he got there is an unusual story. He was based in London at the time, working as a junior accountant at Price, Waterhouse and Company. He took a month’s leave, left without any fanfare (there was no Australian Olympic Committee in those days) and paid for a sea passage to Athens.
He won the 800 metres and the 1500 metres and even competed in the tennis - with a borrowed racquet. Interestingly enough, he even ran in the marathon and led the race until he was passed by the eventual winner, Spiridon Louis.
Historian and former editor Harry Gordon points out that Britain’s Union Jack was unfurled for both of Flack’s victories at Athens and the British anthem was played - because his Olympic nomination papers had been signed by the London Athletic Club.
The English-born Flack was feted by European royalty after the Games and earned the nickname The Lion of Athens. It is said he could not go anywhere in the Greek city without being followed by people who continuously chanted his name.
And so, more than 110 years later, I stand before his statue. It shows a man with chiseled features, simple footwear and socks that concertina around his ankles. I photograph the statue from several angles, against trees that were probably not even planted when he was a boy.
Much later, I discover that he was a keen photographer as well. Surely he would have approved of the angles I explored with my camera.For other participants in Dot’s concept, go to Sky Watch HQ.