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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Royal Flying Doctor Service, Alice Springs, Northern Territory

The Royal Flying Doctor Service became operational on 15th May 1928. The first Flying Doctor was Dr K. St Vincent Welch and the first Flying Doctor pilot was Arthur Affleck, flying for Qantas. QANTAS (Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service) was a tin pot bush airline back in those days.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service is truly a wonderful institution and was founded by a Presbyterian Missionary, the Rev John Flynn who had great compassion for the people of the outback, and wanted to provide 'a mantle of safety' for these isolated people.

He told the story of Jimmy Darcy, a stockman hurt in a fall in Western Australia in 1917. Found badly injured, Darcy was transported by his friends to Halls Creek, 30 miles away which took 12 hours. There the only person who knew first aid was F.W. Tuckett the Postmaster who quickly saw that Darcy's injuries were serious. After trying to contact doctors at Wyndham and Derby, he telegraphed 2,000 miles to his first aid lecturer, Dr Holland in Perth. Following diagnosis by morse code, Holland went on to talk Tuckett through two long and painful bladder operations with a pen knife. Dr. Holland then set out on a 10 day journey from Perth to Halls Gap by cattle boat, then Model T Ford, then a horse drawn sulky and finally on foot. When he arrived he found that Darcy had died the day before from undiagnosed malaria and an abscessed appendix. That's when Reverend Flynn knew something had to be done

When you cross the Nullabor you will see a sign that says 'Flying Doctor' and you suddenly realise that the road you are driving on can suddenly become an airstrip. The police close the highway one and a half hours before the plane lands and as soon as the plane takes off, it opens up again.

Unless you have a satellite phone, communication can be tricky out here. Mobile phones work at petrol stops but not the vast distances in between. Three months ago, a woman rolled her car on the Stuart Highway and careened off the road and ended up in the bushes, hidden from view. Three days later a road train driver noticed tyre tracks leading to the bush and stopped his truck to investigate. Barely alive, she was taken to hospital and survived her ordeal.
There are wonderful stories of how the Flying Doctor has saved hundreds of lives over the years and always remember, if you're one and a half hours drive from most capital cities in Australia, you're in Flying Doctor territory. And if you become sick or injured while travelling, the 'Angles Of The Air' will be there for you.