In the 1950s, Former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies described the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) as “perhaps the single greatest contribution to the effective settlement of the far distant country that we have witnessed in our time.”
In Birdsville, we know that these words are still true. When the closest doctor is 700 kilometres away, we rely on the RFDS for a fortnightly clinic day and to quickly provide medical care in emergencies. Without them, it would be difficult to survive in the outback.
It was a minister of the Presbyterian Church who conceived the idea of the RFDS. The Rev John Flynn, or ‘Flynn of the Inland’, had lived in the outback for much of his life and had witnessed the struggle and hardship of the outback folk. He began setting up hospitals in the outback and in 1912 established the Australian Inland Mission.
Photo courtesy RFDS
It wasn’t until 1928, and after ten years of campaigning, that the first RFDS flight took off from Cloncurry. In that first year, the RFDS flew 50 flights to 26 destinations and treated 225 patients. A couple of years later, the invention of the pedal radio made it possible for people living in remote areas to contact the RFDS in times of emergency.
The introduction of transistor receivers led to the establishment of the ‘Galah Sessions’ that were held throughout the day so that nurses at the Australian Inland Mission Hospitals could contact remote stations and put them in touch with a doctor. Rev Flynn’s vision of a ‘mantle of safety’ over the outback was now a reality.
These days, telephones have made contact much easier but the RFDS is still necessary for people living in remote communities with no doctor. Both residents and travelers of the outback can have peace of mind that if there’s a medical emergency, an RFDS plane will evacuate them to the closest hospital, usually several hundred kilometers away.
Photo courtesy National Library of Australia
However, keeping RFDS planes flying is expensive business. Luckily, there are hoards of generous people who are willing to donate their time and money to support the lifeline of the outback.
For example, the Birdsville Races are held in September each year to raise money for the service and there’s always an RFDS donation tin at the bar of the Birdsville Hotel and Birdsville Roadhouse.
Just last week, Birdsville local Jenna Brook completed a 435-kilometre ‘Long Walk Home’ across the Simpson Desert, which raised $30,000 for the service. She publicized and trained for the walk for nine months before embarking on the journey and is still receiving donations that she is passing on to the RFDS.
Jenna is an inspirational young woman who brought the RFDS to the attention of people all over the world and is helping keep Rev Flynn’s dream alive. According to the RFDS website, Flynn once said, “If you start something worthwhile, nothing can stop it.” This hero of the outback is honoured on the Australian $20 note.
Thanks to the RFDS website for the fantastic information and historical facts.