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Monday, June 25, 2007

Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia


This is the story of how medicine, aviation and radio were combined to bring health care to the people who live, work and travel in the more remote areas of Australia. Established in 1928 and developed on a national basis in the1930s, the Service soon provided not only emergency medical aid to the people of the Inland, but also a comprehensive health care and community service. The development of the Inland was in many ways made easier by the presence of the Flying Doctor. Previously, serious illness or accident often meant death and the Inland holds many graves of people who might have lived had they been able to receive medical aid quickly enough. The late Sir Robert Menzies, Former Prime Minister of Australia 1939-41 & 1949-66, once very aptly said that the Flying Doctor Service represented the “greatest single contribution to the effective settlement of the far distant back country that we have witnessed in our time…”The RFDS was the first comprehensive aerial medical organisation in the world and to this day remains unique for the range of primary health care and emergency services it provides and for the huge area of sparse population and climatic extremes over which it operates - 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The story of the Flying Doctor Service is forever linked with its founder, the Very Reverend John Flynn - it is a story of achievement that gave courage to the pioneers of the Inland. In 1911 the Reverend John Flynn took up his first appointment at Beltana Mission in the north of South Australia. Flynn became very close to the people of the outback and in 1912 he was appointed as the first Superintendent of the Australian Inland Mission (AIM), the ‘bush department’ of the Presbyterian Church. He began his missionary work at a time when only two doctors served an area of some 300,000 sq kms in Western Australia and 1,500,000 sq kms in the Northern Territory. Flynn began establishing bush hospitals and hostels in remote outback areas which alleviated much of the dread associated with the great loneliness of the inland. But while they provided an important service, they were only really scratching at the surface of the problem of caring for people in the outback. The problems of distance and communication remained with many people dying from the lack medical treatment. Flynn told many tales to illustrate the need for medical care in the outback. One such story was that of Jimmy Darcy, a stockman hurt in a fall near Halls Creek, Western Australia in August 1917. Found badly injured, Darcy was transported by his friends to Halls Creek, 30 miles away, a 12 hour journey. There the only person who knew first aid was FW Tuckett, the Postmaster who quickly saw Darcy’s injuries were serious. After trying unsuccessfully trying to contact doctors by telegraph at Wyndham and Derby, he finally thought to telegraph 2,000 miles to his former first aid lecturer, Dr Holland in Perth. Following diagnosis by morse code, Holland went on to instruct Tuckett through two long and painful bladder operations with a pen knif. Holland then set out on a 10 day journey from Perth to Halls Gap by Cattle Boat, Model T Ford, a horse drawn sulky and finally foot. When he arrived he found that although the operations were successful, Darcy, weakened by undiagnosed malaria and an abscessed appendix, had died the day before. The tragedy elbowed even war news from many Australian newspapers and more than any other single event attracted nationwide attention to the urgent need for doctors, hospitals and nurses in outback Australia. In 1903 the first powered air flight had taken place and by 1918 the aeroplane was beginning to prove itself as a reliable means of transport. Radio, then very much in its infancy, was also displaying its remarkable capability to link people thousands of miles apart. Flynn saw the potential in these developments along with Lieutenant Clifford Peel, a young Victorian medical student who had developed an interest in aviation. Peel, hearing of Flynn’s ideas, combined them with his own and wrote to John Flynn from the boat which took him to the war raging in France. The gist of Peel’s letter, dated November 21, 1917, was that aeroplanes would overcome many of the transport problems of the inland. In particular, he saw “a missionary doctor administering to the needs of the men and women scattered between Wyndham and Cloncurry, Darwin and Maree”. Peel outlined the costs of adopting aircraft for the AIM’s medical work, the speed and distances the early planes flew, and the support facilities needed. Flynn was immediately impressed by the idea and published Peel’s ideas in the Church’s ‘Inlander’ magazine in 1917. Peel unfortunately did not live to see the enormous impact it was to make - he was killed flying over German lines in France shortly before WWI ended in 1918, but his remarkable vision lives on today in what is now the Royal Flying Doctor Service. John Flynn had set his considerable fund raising abilities to use for several years, and by 1928, the AIM had sufficient money to establish a flying doctor scheme. Supporters of the project included the industrialist HV McKay, manufacturer of the Sunshine Harvester, Hudson Fysh at QANTAS, and, on the ground, Dr George Simpson, a young Melbourne doctor who had heard Flynn speak many years before. On 15 May 1928, the Aerial Medical Service was established as a one year experiment at Cloncurry in Queensland. After many years of dreaming, hard work and planning the Flying Doctor Service was a reality.

posted by Monique at 11:52 am  

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