Reverend John Flynn, a Presbyterian Minister and Superintendent of the Australian Inland Mission, is a revered figure in Australian history for his painstaking work in establishing the Royal Flying Doctor Service and supporting communities in rural Australia. He was motivated to address the isolation of remote workers and families, which he described as the awesome silence of the outback.

A donation of £ 2000 by Hugh Victor McKay, the founder of the Sunshine Harvester business and prominent Presbyterian, convinced the Church to proceed with the Flying Doctor Service after a decade of campaigning by Flynn. His determination and vision was supported by Hudson Fysh, a World War I fighter pilot and co-founder of Qantas, who helped to source aircraft and also flew for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

In 1928, with no navigational aids or radio and only a compass to guide him, Arthur Affleck piloted the first flight from Cloncurry to Julia Creek, accompanied by Dr Welsh, on board a De Havilland biplane hired from Qantas. His pioneering work was later continued and further developed by his successor the Reverend Fred McKay, another Australian legend of the outback.

From these humble beginnings, the Royal Flying Doctor Service has grown into a national service contributing to community building for rural and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Its innovation is not confined to the use of aircraft in difficult or dangerous situations: it includes the establishment of the “school of the air” which enables bush children to be educated at home without being separated from their families. Such innovation continues today with increasing focus on delivering e-health services.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service history is characterised by resilient and courageous pilots and medical staff who frequently operate in hazardous or trying situations at any time of the day or night. While the organisation now delivers 270,000 patient outcomes annually, it continues to maintain the ethos, values and ethics of its formative years, achieving Flynn’s vision of providing a mantle of safety to the outback.

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