Southern Cross Award Winner
The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS)
Australia’s vast remoteness and the basic need for access to health and medical services was the catalyst for the establishment of a national icon – the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
In the 1920s, South Australian Presbyterian Minister, the Rev John Flynn, in charge of the Australian Inland Mission, saw first hand the daily struggle of pioneers and indigenous people in the remote areas of central Australia where just two medical doctors covered an area of some two million square kilometres. He also saw the incredible benefit air travel provided in such remote areas. The combination of medical service with air travel was inspirational and on 15 May 1928 the Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Services was opened. Two days later the first flying doctor service began with a doctor and pilot taking off for remote stations from Cloncurry in Queensland. The aircraft was a de Havilland DH 50 biplane on loan from the fledgling QANTAS.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service
Over the next few years the service spread nationally with sections established in all States. As Victoria had no outback as such, that State’s service established and funded by Victorian Presbyterian Church benefactors, provided services in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. Its first base opened in Wyndham in 1935.
New South Wales’ section was based in Broken Hill where the RFDS has a significant base today. South Australia and Northern Territory were served from Alice Springs and Western Australia from Kalgoorlie and Port Hedland.
The use of radio communications was instrumental in the development of the service enabling people in remote areas to contact the RFDS for support, especially in emergencies. The expansion of the pedal radio across remote stations and communities also led to the establishment of the “School of the Air’, which used the RFDS radio network, to link remote students with their teachers.
Known nationally in the early days as the Aerial Medical Service, its name was changed to the Flying Doctor Service in 1942 and then the Royal Flying Doctor Service in 1955. It was acknowledged by the then Prime Minister of Australia, Sir Robert Menzies as “… perhaps the single greatest contribution to the effective settlement of the far distant country that we have witnessed in our time.”
Until the 1960s the RFDS contract hired aircraft, crews and maintenance services. Subsequently the service acquired its own aircraft and specialist aviation personnel to complement its medical and support staff.
Today, with its six operational sections, the RFDS covers an area of 7.15 million square kilometres, operates a fleet of 61 aircraft from 21 bases across Australia and employs over 1,000 staff. It provides a 24 hour emergency accident assistance service, medical transfers from remote areas to regional and central medical facilities, a tele-health service and 14,000 clinics covering a wide range of medical specialisations in remote centres. Some 278,000 patients are treated annually. It remains a not for profit organisation and receives funding from governments and public donations.
The Australian Aviation Hall of Fame proudly presents the inaugural “Southern Cross Award”, honouring an organisation which has made an outstanding contribution to aviation, to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.