Some reflections on Elwyn by Professor Peter Edwards

For those who taught with Elwyn Flint or were taught by him, the publication of this catalogue has a dual significance. Not only will the catalogue facilitate the study and, in some instances, the conservation of the Aboriginal languages and the dialects of English that Flint so devotedly and meticulously recorded, it will also serve as a belated memorial to a man whose extraordinary gifts were not adequately appreciated by most of us in his lifetime, and who since his death we have tended to remember more for his amiable personal eccentricities than for his scholarly achievements.

Intensely private, manically absorbed in his work (except on the tennis court where he became exuberantly sociable), a lifelong bachelor apparently ascetic in all his tastes, he betrayed only brief and bashful glimpses of his more companionable urges. At least once, for instance, he was heard to emit something like a whoop of admiration as a male colleague drew his attention to an attractive young woman passing by; and often the desire to share some new intellectual discovery would become irresistible and a startled colleague would be stopped in his or her tracks by a stentorian cry such as ‘Round equals square, tree equals house!’ (which turned out to refer to King Lear).

Photograph provided by the Archives and Records Management Services of the University of Queensland.

This photograph is catalogued as: UQA S177 Photographs of Key People and Occasions associated with the University P835 Aural Analysis of Yiddingi Aboriginal Vernacular by Mr. Flint.

Everyone who knew him has a favourite ‘Elwyn’ story. It may be the one about his trying to hail a taxi with a samurai sword and quite failing to understand why none would stop. Or the one about students lacing his glass of water with something stronger and inspiring him to the performance of his life in the title role in his own play The Death of Marlowe. Or the one about the time he dashed out of a lecture when a piece of audio equipment he was using broke down, jumped into a taxi with his academic gown still on, then rushed back to the bewildered remnant of his class half an hour later, the equipment having been repaired by a colleague who was at home sick.

Similar contretemps also dogged his research work, though lack of appreciation was probably his most serious problem. In 1956, to its shame, the University Research Committee refused his application for a grant to enable him to carry out field work on Norfolk Island, where he subsequently did some of his most important work; the Committee was evidently not swayed by the fact that he had been invited to contribute a chapter to a book on the language of Pitcairn Island that was to be edited by A.S.C. Ross of Birmingham University. At the end of 1964, Ansett-A.N.A. could not find a tape-recorder that had been consigned to him at Normanton airport, for use at Doomadgee Mission; the company refunded him the freight charge of £1/11/6 but offered nothing to compensate him for having to do without the machine for the whole of his week at Doomadgee or for the cost of the telegrams and phone calls he made while trying to locate it.

It is no doubt a measure of the emotional satisfaction he gained from his work - both his teaching and his research - that he usually remained cheerful and courteous in spite of difficulties, disappointments, and failures of communication. As a young man he evidently showed exceptional academic promise.

Born on 12 May 1910, he was still only sixteen when he won an Open Scholarship to the University from Brisbane State High School at the beginning of 1927; the stipend was 10/- a week. On 2 May 1930 he graduated with first class-honours in Modern Languages and Literature and a ‘Government Gold Medal for outstanding merit’. After graduation he was appointed as a ‘reader’, i.e. a postgraduate research scholar who also taught for six hours a week, on a salary of £200 a year, but this apppointment expired at the end of 1932. Though he enrolled for an M.A. in 1936 (thesis topic: ‘Modern Methods of Learning and Teaching Foreign Languages, with special reference to Australian conditions’), it was ten years before he returned to the university as a fulltime teacher.

In the meantime he attended St Francis’s Theological College in Brisbane from 1936 to 1938 and after being ordained as a Church of England priest in 1938 served successively as curate at St Andrew’rs Lutwyche (in Brisbane), vicar of Monto (in the Wide Bay district of Queensland), and, from 1943, as an army chaplain. Soon afterwards he also became an intelligence officer and in this capacity underwent a crash course in Japanese to equip him to interrogate prisoners-of-war.

He was apppointed a junior lecturer in English at the University of Queensland following his discharge from the army in 1946, and a lecturer in 1949, when he was also awarded his M.A. In 1951 he was admitted as a Ph.D. candidate, the title of his thesis being ‘The Living Theatre in England from 1914 to 1954’; it was never completed. His research for his Ph.D. extended to Chinese drama and Japanese NOH plays. He was promoted to senior lecturer at the beginning of 1958. At different times he taught Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, and Renaissance and modern drama, as well as linguistics, applied linguistics, and stylistics. He produced plays both for student dramatic societies and for the English Department, in addition to acting as secretary of the university’s Staff Tennis Club for many years. He retired at the end of 1975 and died on 10 December 1983.

The material itemized in this catalogue offers abundant evidence of the excellence of his scholarship and the rich fulfilment of his early promise.

Peter Edwards
Brisbane, July 1997

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