On this day – the 25th of November 1880 – Reverend John Flynn was born. John Flynn was the founder of what would eventually become the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Australia.
While working at a small settlement in South Australia soon after his ordination, he saw firsthand the rigours of life in the outback and realised that there was no medical care available to inland residents and travellers.
In 1912, he was commissioned to write a report on life in the Northern Territory and in his report he proposed Inland Missions, something the General Assembly decided to act upon by appointing him to be the Head of the Australian Inland Mission (AIM). AIM was to minister to the spiritual, social and medical needs of people in the Outback.
In 1917, Lieutenant Clifford Peel, a Victorian medical student with an interest in aviation, wrote to John Flynn. The inspirational letter suggested the use of aviation to bring medical help to rural Australia. Unfortunately, Peel never knew that his letter became a blueprint for the creation of the Flying Doctor Service, as he died at just 24 years of age in France.
It took ten years of campaigning, but the idea became a reality when Flynn’s long-time supporter, H. V. McKay, left a large bequest for ‘an aerial experiment’ which enabled Flynn to get the Flying Doctor Service airborne.
In 1927, QANTAS and the Aerial Medical Service signed an agreement to operate an aerial ambulance from Cloncurry, Queensland. The first pilot took off from Cloncurry on 17 May 1928, flying a single engine, timber and fabric bi-plane named 'Victory’ (leased by QANTAS for two shillings per mile flown). With him, he had the first of the flying doctors, Dr Kenyon St Vincent Welch.
In its inaugural year, the Aerial Medical Service (which changed its name to the Flying Doctor Service in 1942 and the Royal Flying Doctor Service in 1955) flew 50 flights to 26 destinations and treated 225 patients. Today a fleet of 64 fully instrumented aircraft, operate from 25 airbases across Australia.
Between 1913 and 1927 Flynn was the editor of a magazine, the Inlander, which featured his battle for a 'brighter bush’. His photographs, documents, statistics, maps and articles publicised the needs of the people and northern Australia’s potential for development. The State Library of New South Wales holds a complete collection of the Inlander magazine.
John Flynn is featured on the Australian $20 note which includes images of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.