RABAUL - The 18-year-old Errol Flynn – with an already shady background - arrived in New Guinea in October 1927 to make his fortune on the newly discovered goldfields at Edie Creek.
His later and unexpected career as a celebrated Hollywood film star lay a few years ahead.
From his arrival he tried unsuccessfully to bluff himself into money as a cadet patrol officer, gold prospector, slave recruiter, dynamiter of fish, trapper of birds, manager of coconut and tobacco plantations, air cargo clerk, copra trader, charter boat captain, pearl diver and diamond smuggler.
He was also a prolific writer and contributed regularly to Australian newspapers and magazines with absorbing tales about the untamed jungles of New Guinea.
Flynn soon discovered that the Australian government had a severe shortage of patrol officers and he hoped to bluff his way through in Rabaul. But his colonial career was short-lived when his background was discovered.
He moved restlessly from one job to another, acquiring many different skills but no great competence. Hoping to get rich fast, he lived by his wits and ran up many debts.
In Rabaul, although considered a likeable and capable young man, his reputation for roguery quickly spread and he ceased to be with the Administration.
His best memory of Rabaul was of “a wonderful saloon” where you encountered “everything the world could yield up – miners, recruiters, con men, thieves, beachcombers, prospectors – cubicles both downstairs and upstairs, several phonographs playing, cards.…”
Long after Flynn had departed he was remembered around Rabaul, mostly for the unpaid bills he left behind.
Even after he became famous as a film star, he never paid those bills.
If people wrote asking him to pay, he would send them autographed photographs of himself, saying these were worth much more than what he owed them.
The story is told of the famous occasion when a film of Flynn’s was showing in Rabaul, and at the end of the credits, a dentist to whom Flynn owned a large account jumped up and shouted: “And teeth by Eric Wein.”
Flynn has been called many names: adventurer, thief, lover, liar, murderer and Hollywood legend.
He probably didn’t do much good while he was here in Rabaul, but nevertheless, he placed New Guinea on the world map as a place where a young man could find himself.