Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia
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In 1912, travelling by horse or camel to the outback, came the Reverend John Flynn. A minister of the Presbyterian Church he came primarily to preach the Gospel, but, within a few years, impressed by the tragedies which befell his isolated people when stricken by illness or accident, he propounded the idea of using an aeroplane to bring them swift medical aid in time of trouble.

But a doctor with an aeroplane would be of little use unless these isolated people could let the doctor know when they were ill. To provide the essential communication link, Flynn suggested radio - in a cheap, rugged and reliable form so simple that the bush dwellers could operate it for themselves.

Today, radio and aircraft are common enough, but in 1914 the idea was dismissed by most people as the dream of an impractical visionary. John Flynn knew nothing of the technicalities of aviation, radio or medicine, but he had a flair for finding and imbuing with his own enthusiasm, able and devoted technical lieutenants.


About 1920, Mr. (later Sir) Hudson Fysh, the founder of Qantas Airways, was able to tell him that suitable aircraft were available, such as the de Havilland 50 which could carry the doctor and a patient on a stretcher in the cabin.

Simple, inexpensive radio suitable for untrained people was much more difficult to develop and it was not until 1927 that the problem yielded to the genius of Alfred Traeger, a young Australian radio engineer, who invented a combination transmitting and receiving set powered by a small generator driven by bicycle pedals.

In the same year, Dr. George Simpson made an extensive survey of inland Australia, and chose Cloncurry as the most suitable place for the first Flying Doctor Base. From this base our first flight was made in May, 1928. During the next five years the infant service survived many vicissitudes, including the great financial depression of 1928-31, and emerged as a proven means of bringing medical aid to isolated people. The dream of the impractical visionary had become practical reality but it had taken twenty years of dogged persistence to achieve.


All that now remained was to extend the Service to many other areas of the outback beyond the reach of the Cloncurry aeroplane. John Flynn realised that growth would be slow if it were to depend on on the resources of the Presbyterian Church alone. He persuaded the Church to make the magnificent gesture of handing over the Service on which it had spent so much labour and money to an organisation of national character.


In 1933 The Australian Aerial Medical Service was established, and later was to become the Royal Flying Doctor Service as it is known today.


A non-sectarian organisation - the Royal Flying Doctor Service has flourished in the intervening years. It now comprises 14 bases from which its airborne doctors serve the inhabitants of two-thirds of the continent and Tasmania. Its 33 aircraft fly over 5 million miles each year, bringing medical attention to more than 100,000 patients, of whom over 9,000 are transported to hospital. Urgent flights should not need elaboration to establish their value. Bush people suffer from fractures, acute appendicitis, and other illnesses, just as city folk do. The combination of wireless communications and fast, comfortable transport by air saves lives and limbs. But emergency flights are only part of the story. The Royal Flying Doctor Service aims at providing a full range of medical services over the whole of its vast area of operations. Routine monthly visits are made to isolated communities. Some of these have small hospitals for which resident medical officers cannot be obtained. The Royal Flying Doctor Service is supervising many such hospitals at distances of up to 400 miles. Having a ready means of communication with the matron, one can admit, treat and discharge many patients, making a final check on them at the next routine visit. Others of these communities have no medical service of any kind. All the ordinary activities of general medical practitioners are undertaken, including antenatal supervision, immunisation, etc.

Sufferers from chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and pernicious anaemia, can be regularly checked and their treatment modified, so that they are enabled to go on living and working in remote localities, whereas otherwise they would have to move into more closely settled areas, involving hardship to the patient and accentuating the drift from the bush. People commonly come in as much as 50 miles, and often further, to these clinics. Their nearest resident doctor may be anything up to 300 miles away. When people are faced with a round trip of 400 to 600 miles to see the doctor, it is little wonder that antenatal supervision and immunisation go by the board, and the chances of serious illness coming to early diagnosis are gravely reduced.

Advice by radio is given in hundreds of cases in which illness is not serious enough to warrant a flight. Mothers can be advised regarding their problems in many as a worthy example of Australian initiative and enterprise. In medical circles abroad it is, indeed, regarded as an Australian contribution of no small value to twentieth century medicine - a viewpoint with which all knowledgeable Australians will agree. Each R.F.D.S. Section is a non-profit, non-denominational organisation, incorporated in its own State of the Commonwealth, and is autonomous in the administration of its own affairs.

Sections have as their common objective the aim at fostering, developing, and safeguarding the health of the people in sparsely settled areas, promoting and assisting and conducting research in medical aviation, radio and physical well-being of the people in such areas. Medical assistance is given to mission and philanthropic societies catering for the physical wellbeing of aborigines.

The annual cost of operation is now in excess of $15 million annually, which comes partly from Federal and State Government grants, however, half of all costs for replacement aircraft, medical and radio equipment, and buildings comes from voluntary donations by the people whom it services, their city friends and by charitable bequest.

Please forward your donation to the ...

Royal Flying Doctor Service
P.O. Box 444
Kalgoorlie W.A. 6430

(Donations of $2.00 or over are allowable tax deductions.)