In the 21st century, the ready access that rural people have to emergency medical care is something that tends to be taken for granted, thanks to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
It’s a perception built from years of sustained, enduring service by the aero-medical retrieval institution that has become a household name, but it wasn’t always this way.
Before the 17th of May, 1928, help for people sick and injured in outback Australia was hours or days away.
That was all changed when the first visionary Flying Doctor flight took to the air, between Cloncurry and Julia Creek.
It’s an historic occasion that is being commemorated by an air pilgrimage in western Queensland this week, involving 25 antique aircraft that have taken to the skies between Dubbo and Mount Isa.
They touched down at Australia’s aviation home in Longreach for the weekend just past, giving the community an opportunity to inspect some rare air machines.
Longreach is one of nine locations the planes are visiting on their journey, which ends in Mount Isa on Thursday.
Queensland Airports Limited, the operator of Longreach and Mount Isa airports, is supporting the pilgrimage and hosted a community open day on Sunday.
Longreach and Mount Isa airports spokesman, Kevin Gill, said the pilgrimage highlighted the long history of the RFDS and its importance to regional and remote communities.
“We welcomed these pilots and their historic planes,” he said. “The RFDS is a crucial service for regional Queensland and we have bases at both Longreach and Mount Isa.
“It was a rare opportunity for the community to see these antique planes.
“Longreach has a long aviation history and the community is very proud of that, so it was great to give people the opportunity to be part of the pilgrimage.”
The aircraft, from the Antique Aeroplane Association of Australia, date back to the 1930s.
The pilgrimage was scheduled to stop in Winton, Cloncurry and Julia Creek before its final leg to Mount Isa, which will follow the route of the first flight on May 17, 1928.
The aircraft will follow the original flight path from Cloncurry to Julia Creek. Supported by a current, operational RFDS B200 KingAir, the flight will be a great demonstration of how far the Flying Doctor has come in 90 years.
The RFDS now services some 7.6 million square kilometres and during the past year has flown 24.6 million kilometres to help close to 339,000 people – the equivalent of one every two minutes.
- From a single leased Qantas plane in 1928, they have a fleet of 69 planes today, 115 road service vehicles, and 1400 professionals delivering emergency medical care across Australia.
- Every day the RFDS evacuates 101 people to a tertiary hospital
- transports 193 patients by road for specialist care
- delivers 48 GP and nurse clinics
- delivers 30 FIFO or DIDO dental consultations
- cares for 243 patients through telehealth consultations
The 90 year milestone is an opportunity to acknowledge that the need for health services in rural Australia is as real today as it was when Reverend John Flynn set out to create a “mantle of safety” in the 1920s.
The disparity in health outcomes between bush and city still exists. Country Australians see the doctor at half the rate, the dentist at one third the rate, and mental health specialists at one fifth the rate of city people.
The Flying Doctor works tirelessly to improve disparities in health outcomes for those in the bush and it is likely for this reason Australians have expressed their trust in the RFDS and ranked the Flying Doctor as the most reputable Australian charity for the seventh year in a row.
The Flying Doctor was created out of need in country Australia and continues today to fill a need.