Man on Twenty Dollar Notes: Compton puts words in John Flynn’s mouth – Book Review by Ross Fitzgerald

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


Two thousand and sixty years after his assassination, Julius Caesar has a simple message for leaders of nations that they will ignore at their peril.

When you rely on creating divisions in society as your prime means of remaining in power, your reign will be short.

When you create fear, people will move to protect themselves in ways you cannot control.

When you make people feel insecure, they will quickly decide that they need a new leader who will give them a sense of security. And it won’t be you. Continue reading “CAESAR SPEAKS FROM THE GRAVE”

Reviewing the Challenges of 2015 – Economy – Environment – Religion


2014 was not the greatest year in history.
Be this as it may, the one element of life that will never be lost is Hope. This means that we can plan for 2015 to be a better year, but, as in all things, success happens when we face and plan to overcome obstacles. So, as 2014 draws to an uninspiring close, we look at three significant roadblocks and talk about how to get around them. Continue reading “Reviewing the Challenges of 2015 – Economy – Environment – Religion”

Four Australian Icons under threat – no longer sacred, certain or permanent.


No longer is anything sacred or certain or permanent.
Icons now have fleeting value and we are challenged either to defend them or create new ones that may adequately replace them.
With this in mind, I reckon it is worth our while to spend a moment looking at four of them.

Continue reading “Four Australian Icons under threat – no longer sacred, certain or permanent.”

“Politics by the Book” – join me in debate on the value of politicians to the life of the nation.

It is fast becoming an essential building block of an aspirational political life to write a book about your career at a carefully chosen moment.

By spinning your achievements, or arranging with a famous author to include you in a book, you may convince voters that you are the right person to go the top, or return there, if they will back you right now. Tony Abbott did this successfully with his book Battlelines.

Perhaps, you may just want history to treat you favourably.

So, let me comment on a few of the latest political epistles, some written by MPs, and others by eminent commentators, in the hope that a debate can be generated on the value, if any, of politicians to the life of the nation.
It could help us evaluate where politics should be reformed in the years ahead. Continue reading ““Politics by the Book” – join me in debate on the value of politicians to the life of the nation.”

Voluntary Euthanasia

Voluntary Euthanasia — the issue that won’t go away

There is an excellent book now in circulation called “At Liberty To Die — the battle for death with dignity in America”, which has been written by Howard Ball. It sets-out the many efforts that are being made in the United States to legalise physician-assisted death.

There has been legislation debated in their State and Federal Governments and Courts for many years. Millions of dollars have been spent on lawyers and lobbying — the Roman Catholic Church being by far the most prolific financier of the case for the negative — a very doubtful use of the offering of its parishioners.

Oregon was the first state to legalise PAD, and two others will shortly follow them, but many more long and bitter battles will be fought. What is disturbingly significant is the evidence that most people don’t want to even consider the possibility that one day they will die.

I have long held the personal conviction that I want to die at the moment when I know that I have no quality of life. I utterly reject the depressing possibility that my family may have to visit me for years while I am a vegetable. Nor should they and the government have to bear the cost of me being maintained as a vegetable.

I want my doctor to accidentally leave all the windows open on a freezing winter night and ignore me for a while. After all, death is an indispensable and unavoidable part of life, which should be a positive experience at the end of a good journey.

Peter Fitzsimons and the Republic

One of my life’s privileges is that I count Peter Fitzsimons as one of my friends, and I have enjoyed reading all of his books. His latest “Eureka” ranks with “Batavia” as his best. It is sub-titled “The Unfinished Revolution”.

If you read it objectively — and it is written in a factual style that stirs excitement — you will join the ranks of Australian Republicans instantly.

The Eureka Stockade is a tragic story of a dumb and oppressive colonial government, led by two incompetents, La Trobe and Hotham, who deliberately murdered miners at Ballarat. For sure, the miners contained some wild Irishmen who started a rebellion against the cost of mining licenses, and this inflamed a government that had a very low opinion of the Irish anyway.

There was fault on both sides, but the fact is that each individual miner paid more for renting his few yards of creek bed than a grazier paid to lease 10,000 acres nearby.

The tragedy showed that Australia is a totally different nation to privileged realm of the English gentry, and always will be. It’s time to now show that we are utterly independent, but to get anywhere in achieving that goal, we will have to get rid of States and their Governors first of all.

Good books about Gough Whitlam, former Indonesian President Sukarno, “American Stories” and “The Price of Inequality”

GOUGH WHITLAM will be remembered in history as our most controversial Prime Minister. The only one to come anywhere near him as a generator of political heat was Billy Hughes, yet they were utterly different. Whitlam had great intellect and presence, while Hughes was a very cunning old fox. Jenny Hocking has written an objective book about Whitlam’s three years in power from 1972 to 1975. It’s called “Gough Whitlam – His Time” and you will find that reading it is a very worthwhile use of your time because it is a balanced appraisal. She hits him hard for his failings (which were many). But, she gives him measured praise where it is due — eg, Medicare which endures to this day as a fundamental right of all Australians, which no political party would now ever dare to repeal, even though the Coalition declared it to be communist at the time when Whitlam introduced it. Continue reading “Good books about Gough Whitlam, former Indonesian President Sukarno, “American Stories” and “The Price of Inequality””

Good books about Vladimir Putin, gangster Carl Williams and the novel “The Lifeboat”

I have spent several interesting days reading a new biography of Vladimir Putin. The authors are Chris Hutchins and Alexander Korobko, neither of whom give the impression of being fans of Putin, but come-up with a vision of a leader who is vastly under-rated because he never ever gives the world much of a look into his soul, and comes over as being cold, tough and unapproachable. Continue reading “Good books about Vladimir Putin, gangster Carl Williams and the novel “The Lifeboat””

Beware the Social Distortion of Money.

The world’s most favoured and heated topic of conversation is money. It dominates every facet of life, and it is true to say that most people handle it badly. Governments manage it particularly poorly, as I have mentioned often in other articles. This being so, I decided to do a bit more in-depth reading about money over the past few weeks.

My first port of call was a book called ‘What Money Can’t Buy’. It is an absolute classic, written by Michael Sandel. Its sub-title is ‘The Moral Limits of Markets’ and it vividly outlines the extremes to which people go in using their money to gain them privileges that others cannot aspire to. Continue reading “Beware the Social Distortion of Money.”

Good books about The Great Gatsby, Waltzing Matilda, coal mining and the ruins of European Empires.

I read somewhere that Baz Luhrmann is making a new movie based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book “The Great Gatsby”.  Having known for a long time that this novel is regarded by Americans as one of the great books of their nation’s literary history, I decided that the time had come to read it. I found it to be an odd book because of the authors strange style of writing, but it does paint a stark portrait of the decadent lifestyle of wealthy Americans during the Roaring Twenties when they were totally oblivious to the fact that they were speeding like an express train towards the Wall Street Crash of 1929.  Continue reading “Good books about The Great Gatsby, Waltzing Matilda, coal mining and the ruins of European Empires.”

Good books about the brain changing itself, the Marmalade Files, the influence of Jewish people and how much wealth is enough.

In my humble view, the book of the month is one written about the human brain. Entitled The Brain That Changes Itself, and written by Norman Doidge, it was recommended to me by an old friend, John Herron, former Senator, Ambassador and Surgeon. Doidge says that most medical scientists have long held the belief that the brain is an intricate piece of machinery that cannot be changed — it can only be repaired in certain circumstances. He outlines the ground-breaking work of other scientists who have disproved this. Continue reading “Good books about the brain changing itself, the Marmalade Files, the influence of Jewish people and how much wealth is enough.”

Good Books about Rupert Murdoch, Harry Belafonte,The Dead Sea Deception and Great Expectations of our Angry Nation

After penning my article regarding the decadence of entitlement, I received a number of emails suggesting that I buy the most recent edition of Quarterly Essay and read Laura Tingle’s thoughts on the same issue. It is entitled “Great Expectations – Government, Entitlement and an Angry Nation” and I am pleased that I took their advice as it is 64 pages of absorbing reading. She makes the compelling point Continue reading “Good Books about Rupert Murdoch, Harry Belafonte,The Dead Sea Deception and Great Expectations of our Angry Nation”