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Published November 2nd 2017
Bringing Australia a little bit closer together
The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) is regarded as the oldest, largest and most comprehensive airborne medical service in the world. It is also Australia's fourth largest airline (based on the number of planes). It was started by two pioneers who brought the latest technologies– radio and aviation – together in the early twentieth century to overcome the tyranny of distance that people living in the bush had to face.
The Reverend John Flynn was a patrol padre, who travelled the outback as a priest. He saw people suffering and dying in remote areas because they were too far from medical care. In 1917, Victorian pilot Lieutenant Clifford Peel wrote to Flynn to tell him he had seen a missionary doctor visiting isolated patients by plane. Sadly, Peel died the next year in the First World War, but he had planted the seed for the idea of a flying medical service.
A few years later, radio was developed to replace the telegraph service, and in the mid-1920s Flynn, together with Alfred Traeger, began experimenting with this new communications technology and distributing pedal radios to stations around Cloncurry.
Radio makes a difference
The chance to put his bold idea for a flying medical service into action came when his friend Hugh McKay died in 1928 and left him £2,000. With the money, Flynn leased a biplane off Qantas and started up the Australian Inland Mission.
Today, across Australia the RFDS is firmly established as an essential service, with 23 bases, 1,225 staff and 67 aircraft. Each day the service clocks up an average of 73,500 kilometres and provides medical assistance to more than 800 people.
The Kalgoorlie branch of the RFDS station is located at Kalgoorlie airport. Tours of the Kalgoorlie RFDS are available on weekdays at 10.15am and also at 2pm between May and November. These provide a unique opportunity to experience first-hand the internationally renowned work of Australia's flying doctors, nurses and pilots.
The Kalgoorlie branch of the RFDS station is located at Kalgoorlie airport
The tour consists of a fascinating talk encompassing the history of the RFDS, how it has developed to the present day and interesting statistics about the workload of the service. This is followed by a 10-minute video presentation and then a visit to the hangar to see a RFDS plane (if they are not all out saving lives).
The seminar room where visitors hear a fascinating talk and video presentation about the work of the RFDS
We were lucky enough to see one of the Pilatus PC-12s that are made in Switzerland and flown over to Australia by RFDS pilots. These planes can carry two stretcher patients with a doctor, flight nurse and one other person. Each plane costs $6.5 million plus another $1 million for the medical fit out. Most big stations and roadhouses have their own landing strips and many of them even have their own planes. Otherwise, the RDFS can land these planes on outback highways.
After the tour, you can browse the displays in the foyer and the Roger Waller Theatre. The displays include an example of the standardised medical chest. More than 2,000 of these green chests are located in remote areas of Australia. The chests each contain 300 drugs and all are numbered for ease of identification. A poster tells a funny story about a station manager who was instructed by the operator to give his wife a number nine tablet. The station manager later told an RFDS doctor, "I didn't have any number nines left so I gave my wife a number five plus a number four tablet instead."
An example of the green standardised medical chest
The motto of the RFDS is: 'The furthest corner, the finest care.' It delivers extensive primary health care, health training and a 24/7 emergency service to those who live, work and travel in rural and remote Australia, bringing this huge continent a little bit closer together. Western Australia alone covers 2.5 million square kilometres. Tourism is a growth industry for the RFDS, and anyone who is planning to travel outside the metropolitan area should familiarise themselves with the RFDS number for emergency calls and medical advice: 1800-625-800.
Foyer display in the RFDS Kalgoorlie
The RFDS is a not-for-profit organisation. While operational costs are covered by the State and Federal governments, the cost of updating and maintaining expensive aviation and medical equipment comes from fundraising and donations. To donate call 1300 669 569 or visit www.flyingdoctor.org.au
It's well worth a trip to the Kalgoorlie RFDS to find out more about this fantastic organisation.