The Royal Flying Doctor Service
Flying Doc

The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia or RFDS is one of those iconic organizations that Australians hold dear to their hearts and speak of with sincere pride. Corporations such as Telstra or BHP would give anything for just a hundredth of the goodwill Australians have for 'The Flying Doc'.

You are likely to find a slotted, beaten RFDS tin on the bar of most bush pubs and on the counters of most rural roadhouses and you could do far worse than drop a little loose change in it.


Established as the Aerial Medical Service in 1928 at Cloncurry, Queensland by the Reverend John Flynn (“Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks”) early supporters included the fledgling QANTAS airline who chartered a De Havilland DH.50 to the experimental aviation organization.

The following quote is taken from the RFDS website and most people who have had anything to do with it would find this a fair description -

“The Royal Flying Doctor Service was the first comprehensive aerial medical organisation in the world, and to this day remains unique for the range of primary health care services, communication and education assistance it provides to people who live, work and travel in Australia's remote outback. The service depends on funds provided by the Australian, State and Territory Governments and contributions donated by the general public, businesses and the corporate sector. The RFDS has 16 bases servicing an area which covers more than 7 million square kilometres of Australia.”

Some statistics on its activities for the year ending 2009 -

Only People and Machines

As remarkable an organization as it is, the service the RFDS is able to provide is only as good as the weather conditions, the landing conditions, the distance to be covered, the amount and importance of assistance required elsewhere and a host of other factors.

We know of a Canadian who lay in 45 degree heat, for two hours with a shattered leg, after coming off a motorbike. After finally locating him it took a further 2 hours for the Doctor to finally land and begin to administer treatment. That's 4 hours on your back in excruciating pain in 45 degree heat.

I have seen it take 6 hours to get a family member to hospital with severe head injuries after a car versus truck accident. The RFDS air crew who attended, were due to finish their shift, but decided to continue working because they were the only available unit. Dedicated professionals who are often under extreme pressure. It can take six hours or longer because of the protocols, the exchanges of life support equipment at hospitals and airports, and the sheer availability of resources. And of course, your broken toe is probably not as important as the heart attack victim currently being flown to intensive care and you will have to wait.

Somewhere in the back of the psyche of most remote residents of this vast country, there is an inherent trust - that if things turn bad, then the Doc will find somewhere to land and keep them alive, until arrival at a hospital, and this is pretty much fact - but don’t think that a medical emergency in the bush is going to be a 5 minute fix for the Flying Doctor.

Helping Yourself

If you spend time in remote areas or driving country highways then carry a decent first aid kit, learn some first aid and act with the knowledge that the Royal Flying Doctor consists of people and machines. The RFDS cannot land a plane, 1200km away in a mountain range, in under 10 minutes, because you may have been intoxicated and inconveniently stumbled into your camping fire at midnight.

The RFDS was and always has been a not-for-profit organization and has always relied upon the community, donations, fund raising and government and corporate grants to maintain its not insubstantial fleet of aircraft, staff and facilities.

The Federal Mint felt so strongly about the importance of the Reverend John Flynn’s contribution to medical aviation history they honoured him by placing his portrait on the $20 note.

If you have one of these spare you can send it to RFDS here.

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