Young Flynn in Cairns

08 Feb


Cairns, Queensland’s northern-most city, is an international gateway to Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. For much of the twentieth century, including during Errol’s youth, its economy depended on sugar growing and farming. Later tourism became the dominant industry.

The city looks east to the Coral Sea at Trinity Bay, which was named by James Cook in 1770. It had an excellent harbor, “lush soil” and rich mineral mines, all of which drew a motley population, including a very significant percentage of fan tan playing immigrant Chinese.

This extraordinary setting eventually developed and became widely known for a uniquely wild environment, with gambling dens, opium smugglers, Japanese geishas, and an infamous red light district.

And (therefore) then along came Flynn:



“By 1923, Cairns’ “polychromatic population” had reached 8000, enough for Cairns to be declared a city, if a very rough and ready one.

Among its visiting chroniclers was the Hobart-born Errol Flynn, then still an aspiring unknown. He found his way to the Chinese Fan-Tan gambling joints, where he witnessed an operatic all-in brawl that seems to have provided some inspiration for his swashbuckling film roles:

“It was canecutters versus Chinese,” he records in Beam Ends, his supremely unreliable celebrity memoir: “Every moment more and more belligerents joined in the scrap, for no good reason other than it was anyone’s fight. Chinamen rushed about shouting and squealing in their high-pitched voices.

In the middle of the room, Chinamen, canecutters, Malays, half-castes, dark-skinned Italians and all other multi-hued nationalities were mixed up in a confused and struggling mass, amid the tumult and babel of shouted curses and imprecations in unknown tongues.

After a while the thing assumed an impersonal aspect. A man recognised an enemy simply because he happened to be nearest to him or of a different colour. A carload of police arrived on the scene and laid heavily and indiscriminately with their truncheons.””

Perhaps a similar scence: The Battle of Paramatta Park – Cairns, July 1932.


How it looks today, in the Post Flynn era:

Michael Seebeck Photographer

— Tim


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  1. David DeWitt

    February 9, 2016 at 2:56 am

    I love reading about Errol’s early life and Beam Ends is one of the books I have the most copies of as it was reprinted many times. I have a hardcover edition with a map in it. And some interesting photos. One of our old members took a land tour in reverse of young Flynn’s journey along the coast and visited places on land that the young Errol and friends landed on. He did not start in New Guinea but his trip was epic and he ended it in Tasmania! You can search the blog for it …

  2. timerider

    February 12, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    The place of his birth and the places he traveled are just as colorful as his life!