The hidden camera extortion racket uncovered at New Farm’s trendy Avalon Flats shocked pre-war Brisbane. The victim — John Wilson, by all accounts, a remarkably devout English lad. The villains — Fred and Dalham Affleck, the sons of Sir Frederick Danby James Affleck, 8th Baronet of Dalham Hall, a Buderim orchardist.
The Supreme Court heard allegations of all-male orgies. Lawyers waved photos of homosexual sex acts. But the jury never heard from John Wilson. Justice Macrossan ruled they could rely on his previous testimony after he shot himself on the eve of the trial. Another victim perhaps of what Lady Lily Affleck described as the curse of the house of Affleck. However, despite the conviction of her sons, the trial never came close to the truth. A web of lies surrounded the entire case. Everyone lied, including John Wilson. So, what was the truth and who was John Wilson really? In truth, everyone was cursed because, for most people in the 1930s, survival required endless deceit.
The heir and the spare
Fred and Dalham Affleck grew up poor. Dirt poor. Their father, Frederick Affleck, toiled at menial labouring jobs. However, he did win £4,500 in Tattersall’s 1898 Boxing Day Sweep — the equivalent of almost $700,000 today. But he frittered away the fortune. The purchase of Brisbane’s prestigious and popular four-storey National Hotel seemed a shrewd investment, yet the poor bloke couldn’t even turn a profit flogging grog. Affleck sold the pub at a loss in 1906.
Meanwhile, according to his later listing in Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage, at the age of 49, Frederick married Lily Ross. Fred Junior was born a year later in 1905 and Dalham in 1906.
Despite illustrious ancestry, Frederick Danby James Affleck was unlikely to benefit from any meaningful inheritance. At the time of his birth, his uncle was the sixth Baronet of Dalham Hall in Suffolk. Frederick’s father served as rector of St Mary the Virgin, a fourteenth-century church on the grounds of the hall. But Reverend Affleck was rather too fond of a drink. His money went on grog and doctors. Mainly grog. He didn’t always bother to pay the doctors. Reverend Affleck died not long before his son’s seventh birthday, leaving his widow almost penniless.
However, Mrs Affleck obtained an education for her eldest son by applying for a scholarship from the Clergy Orphan Corporation. From over 30 applicants, Frederick won one of the six available positions in May 1864. At the age of 8, he left home to attend a boarding school for the sons of destitute, deceased clergy.
The school encouraged graduates to find a trade and sometimes obtained apprenticeships for them. Frederick took a cadetship with the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company — P&O.
In 1882, Frederick’s eldest cousin became seventh Baronet and Frederick faced facts. The new baronet had two younger brothers. Frederick would only inherit if he outlived all three cousins and any male descendants. With few prospects for the future, Frederick Affleck deserted England in his mid-twenties and worked his passage to Western Australia aboard a P&O liner. He found employment initially as a jackeroo and, in the years before his sweepstakes win, worked his way around Australia as a farm labourer.
Unremarkably for an Affleck, the seventh Baronet fathered no children. Of all the Affleck baronets, only two sired legitimate offspring. At the beginning of World War One, the seventh Baronet did still have two living brothers. But they both died childless, one in 1916, and the other a year later. After decades as the poor-arse Aussie rellie, Frederick Affleck became first-in-line to the title. He boasted of his change in circumstance via a deceptively straightforward notice in the local paper.
On 14 September 1917, John de Linden Affleck, third son of the late Sir Robert Affleck, fourth Baronet of Dalham Hall, Suffolk, and Fingringhoe Hall, Essex, England, and cousin of Mr F. Danby J. Affleck, Glenview, Mooloolah.
Frederick Affleck’s neighbours probably never heard of John de Linden Affleck. They would not mourn him. But they would know that Frederick Affleck was now heir to an English title and the associated estate.
That likely explains how the impoverished farmworker suddenly obtained finance to purchase his own small block of rainforest on Buderim Mountain. Unable to afford a baronial pile, the future knight knocked up a two-room shack to accommodate his family.
Frederick Affleck cleared seven of his twenty-two acres. It was backbreaking work. The combination of volcanic soil and heavy rainfall made the North Coast hinterland a boon for orchardists. But Frederick Affleck bought virgin scrub, untouched by a timber cutter’s axe. He first hacked through an almost impenetrable tangle of shrubs, ferns and sometimes poisonous vines. Above the undergrowth, Piccabeen Palms pushed skyward, searching for light in the shadow of the soaring Eucalypts and Strangler Figs that towered above all else. Day after day, tree by tree, the old farmer chopped through the ancient thicket, felling forest giants with simple hand tools. Finally, after removing the stumps, he cultivated the fertile red earth, planting bananas, strawberries and pawpaws. When his efforts bore fruit, he sold what he could, while his wife bottled preserves to supplement their meagre income.
The inheritance could not come too soon. In 1919, Frederick Affleck was almost sixty-four, exhausted from a lifetime of physical labour, and going blind. He needed assistance. When Fred Junior turned fourteen, the family plucked him out of school to help on the farm. That was okay — they would soon be rich.
The 8th Baronet of Dalham Hall
The seventh Baronet died later that year. As presumed eighth baronet of Dalham Hall, Frederick Affleck ordered personalised stationery inscribed with his new title and the family crest. He demanded to be addressed as Sir or simply Affleck in the manner of the English aristocracy. Even his wife called the imperious old orchardist Sir. For her part, Lily now affected the title Lady Affleck, whether entering her preserves in local shows or writing to the council about a washout on the road. Sure, the arse was falling out of their pants. But they had titles.
The local paper described eldest son and heir-apparent Fred as a sturdy young Australian. He grew up on stories of the ancestral estates his father recalled from his youth. Stately homes adorned with ornate panelling, opulent furnishings and portraits of their illustrious forebears. Gardens, stables, hunting lodges… once mere fragments of an old man’s memory but now an inventory of the impending family fortune. One day, it would all be Fred’s.
However, Sir Frederick left England nearly four decades before, and much can change over forty years. In September 1920, the new knight received a communiqué from King George V, acknowledging his ascension to the title.
Thanks, but no thanks.
By then, Sir Frederick knew that all that remained of his birthright was the title — nothing else — no capital or property. His spendthrift predecessor squandered the family fortune and sold Dalham Hall around the turn of the century. There was not a penny left.
The second son turned fourteen that year. Dalham’s disheartened parents removed him from school and dispatched him to work as a farmhand near Kingaroy, over a hundred miles away. Farming was hard yakka for little reward. The Afflecks craved a less arduous life. They believed they merited better. Fred Affleck inherited his parent’s bitterness that Sir Frederick succeeded to a Baronetcy devoid of wealth and riches.
“A title is not much use without money.”
Fred and his mother griped that an unscrupulous legal advisor swindled hundreds of thousands of pounds from the previous Baronet in days of yore.
Sir Robert Affleck did cite fraud to excuse his indebtedness in the London Bankruptcy Court. The seventh Baronet swore that a nameless lawyer embezzled £10,000 from him. But most people would tender proof of the deceit or at least recollect the scammer’s name. Not Sir Robert. In truth, he owed considerably more than £10,000, all thanks to his own extravagance. However, Sir Robert preferred to deflect blame, so he spun a tale of woe later inflated by his Queensland relatives.
“My father always greatly regretted that our family estate passed into the hands of strangers,” said Fred Affleck, “Things would have been different.”
He justified his loathsome behaviour towards other people as a reaction to the fictitious fraud.
“I am filled with hatred towards society.”
Typical Fred. Speak first, think… later. His mother attributed that to his being dropped on his head as a kid. Well, she did not quite say ‘dropped on his head’.
“When he was three years old, the chubby little fellow fell from a wagon. He struck his head on a sharp stone, and part of his brain became paralysed. He could not even speak for three years after that accident.”
Lady Affleck’s anecdote could be true, partially true or total bullshit. She was an unreliable family historian. Her ladyship would not have known the truth if she’d fallen from a wagon and struck her head on it.
Dalham Affleck returned home after more than a year away. He was almost sixteen, had tasted life outside the family home, and he liked it. The youngest Affleck had become a people person, something that set him apart from his socially aloof kinfolk. Even when Sir Frederick owned the National Hotel, a hub of social activity, his name was not once associated with any function or community event.
Dalham Affleck joined the Mooloolah Sports Club. He swam and rowed, played cricket and tennis, and attended parties. He won trophies at the annual Aquatic Sports Day, held on the Monday following Christmas near the mouth of the Mooloolah River. Locals and tourists alike flocked to the riverbank to cheer on the district’s best young athletes. Club officials organised a concert in a riverside shed to take advantage of the holiday crowds.
Tourism was already a thriving business in the region destined to one day be rebranded as the Sunshine Coast. Increasing ownership of cars allowed the wealthy to motor from Brisbane while the middle class caught the train to Palmwoods, a few miles west of the Affleck farm. From there, they paid for conveyance to Buderim via horse-drawn coach, motor vehicle or, like E. Grant Swan, sugar train.
The sugar train
“Whimsical is the note struck by the narrow-gauge railway over which runs the miniature train, consisting of an engine surmounted by a grotesque spark-proof apparatus, and one or two sugar trucks converted into passenger cars by the addition of a few trestle seats.
“Yet, clank for clank, perhaps no world-famous line gives more beauty mile for mile than this tiny railroad connecting Palmwoods with the summit of Buderim.”
Visitors then caught a taxi or strolled the three and a half miles to the beach. Tourist operators promoted ‘a mountain and seaside holiday all in one’. Holidaymakers could choose from guest houses bordering the shore or nestled high in the hills.
Going to the beach only recently emerged as a popular leisure activity. For a kid like Dalham Affleck, changing into a bathing suit and plunging into the waves seemed as natural as riding a horse or kicking a ball. But his elders at the Sports Club remembered that not too long ago, Australians risked arrest for a daylight dip and ‘surf bathing’ remained a contentious issue across much of the country.
It was all about sex.
A great moral battle raged across the nation in the early decades of the twentieth century.
“An abomination,” thundered Melbourne’s Archbishop Carr.
“The thin end of the wedge,” agreed Archbishop Duhig.
Not wanting to be outdone by papists, Reverend Adamson of the Methodist Conference chimed in: “Hideously immoral.”
“Cutting at the very taproot of national life,” wrote a correspondent to the Adelaide Register.
Doomsayers predicted the end of civilisation as we knew it, a descent into Sodom and Gomorrah, the destruction of traditional Christian marriage, and the wrath of a vengeful God. It’s a very slippery slope. Won’t someone think of the children!
The issue? Gender-neutral beaches, or in the parlance of the day, mixed bathing.
When the Australian colonies federated on 1 January 1901, municipal laws across much of the country prohibited swimming in the ocean during daylight hours. Numerous jurisdictions echoed section 77 of the New South Wales Police Act.
“Whosoever bathes in any part of Sydney Cove, or in any waters exposed to view from any wharf, street, public place, dwelling house in or near the said city or towns between the hours of six o’clock in the morning and eight in the evening shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding one pound.”
Men monopolised municipal beaches, bathing naked during the hours of darkness.
Increasing numbers of swimmers saw the morning session extended to 8 am. But that failed to satisfy the growing population of surf bathers. After Randwick Council legalised all-day surf bathing in December 1902, other councils began to follow suit. However, numerous new regulations replaced the old prohibition. Towns with big enough beaches segregated them — men here, women over there. Otherwise, councils stipulated separate times for male and female bathing.
The erections on Cottesloe Beach
Most local government authorities also banned wearing swimming costumes on the beach. Bathers had to change from daywear into swimsuits in bathing sheds, walk directly to the water with no loitering and when they exited the waves, stride briskly back to the change rooms to change into streetwear before they sat on the sand.
In the year of Dalham Affleck’s birth, Freemantle’s Councillor Nicolas demanded: “the works committee go and look at the erections on Cottesloe beach.”
He did not refer to proud, blood-swollen penises sprouting on the sand like so many rampant sea slugs.
He spoke, of course, of dressing sheds.
Mr Nicolas thought the existing structures sufficient. However, Councillor Stevens desired the construction of mobile sheds that could be wheeled to the water’s edge. That would preclude bathers emerging from the surf and promenading across the beach with their scanty neck-to-knee bathing costumes clinging indecently to their bodies.
Predictions of a slippery slope proved prescient. Once swimmers achieved the right to bathe during daylight hours, they then agitated for gender-neutral beaches. Families wished to visit the beach as a group. They wanted to have picnics. They yearned to dip their toes in the shallows and frolic on the sand together. Few Australian women could swim so men wished to teach their wives and daughters how and ensure their safety.
‘We told you so’, wailed the wowsers. But no one listened, so they then claimed religious discrimination. If men and women gathered willy-nilly on the shore, they whined, it would prevent good, decent God-fearing Christians opposed to such debauchery enjoying a day at the beach.
(And there’d be floods, fire, famine, locust plagues etc.)
No good — councils eventually surrendered to popular sentiment and desegregated the beaches, sometimes jolted into action by a spate of female drownings.
But wowsers, as we all know, never give up attempting to impose their beliefs on everyone else. So, they moved on to dictating dick togs. But without the dicks. Because Australia’s moral guardians insisted on swimwear designed to deny the existence of genitalia.
No camel toes or visible penis lines on Australian beaches.
Male and female swimsuits needed to cover the body from neck to knee with shoulders shrouded to the elbow and necklines no lower than two inches below the throat. A skirt of between six to twenty-four inches in length should encircle the entire waist of both men and women. Loincloths would not suffice. A belt should be worn to prevent mischievous ocean currents from dacking unsuspecting swimmers. The fabric should be black or dark blue and thick enough to avoid accentuating the outlines of the body. Not tight-fitting.
Brisbane Council, among others, required housewives to visit City Hall and take a copy of the approved pattern.
Even when Brisbane eventually allowed unskirted swimsuits, it required males 14 and over to wear a ‘V’ underneath their one-piece — a sturdy jock-style garment designed to compress the male genitalia and visually desex the male swimmer. Tucking underwear.
Beach inspectors and police checked that: “bathing costumes were not indecent or inadequate or that the material thereof was not too thin or in a proper state of repair or is, for any reason, unsuitable.”
Surf lifesaving associations, then in their infancy, complained the skirted swimsuits cost lives with both swimmers and their rescuers becoming entangled in the skirts.
The weekly Mrs Mangle humour column in Brisbane’s Sunday-Mail took the politicians to task. The Old Woman next door complained to Mrs Mangle over the fence about their sanctimonious moralising.
“You never knows what them politicians ‘ll do next. They treats us like a lot of kids. You mustn’t see this picture and you mustn’t read that book.
“If you asks me, we’re being wowserised by a lot of old geezers.
“Look at that alderman who hits the roof because a few sheilas show a bit of back on the beach. Yet he got a figure of Venus in his front room, and a picture of a girl having a bath in the rude — I mean nude. If I had the running of this country, I’d crime the lot for hypocrisy.”
In Sydney and Melbourne, protestors took more direct action.
Scores of men rocked up to the beach in drag. They borrowed dresses and skirts from their wives, mums and sisters and camped it up to the horror of municipal authorities.
Mooloolaba Surf Life Saving Club
All of this commotion seemed to pass unnoticed in the Affleck neighbourhood. There were no real towns down on the coast yet and people from the farming communities in the hinterland organised the sporting activities at the beach.
A coastal headland sheltered the Mooloolah river entrance and calmed the waves lapping the shore of the Mooloolaba Beach. Day-trippers and holidaymakers visited to swim, surf, sunbathe, picnic and fish.
Unfortunately, deaths from drowning occurred each summer. In 1922, the Sports Club purchased a surf reel and began to train their members in surf life-saving. Dalham Affleck became a foundation member of the Mooloolaba Surf Life Saving Club at 18, awarded a Gold Medal at the organisation’s first annual dinner.
Surf lifesavers were already quintessential Aussie icons. The local paper gushed as the tanned youth of Dalham’s club marched up the beach alongside those from Maroochydore.
“The sight of so many bronzed young athletes made the blood throb in the veins of onlookers.”
Yes. Surf lifesavers were already sex symbols in the 1920s.
Dalham Affleck no doubt relished escaping his family’s humble cottage for carefree days at the beach. Possessed of tremendous pride in their pedigree but little else, the Afflecks lived a poverty-stricken existence.
Airs and graces do not pay bills.
Sex, however, as Dalham would discover, does.