The RFDS began as the dream of the Rev John Flynn, a minister with the Presbyterian Church. He witnessed the daily struggle of pioneers living in remote areas where just two doctors provided the only medical care for an area of almost 2 million square kilometres. Flynn’s vision was to provide a ‘mantle of safety’ for these people and on 15 May 1928, his dream had become a reality with the opening of the Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service (later renamed the Royal Flying Doctor Service) in Cloncurry, Queensland.
Over the next few years, the RFDS began to expand across the country.
The Victorian Section of the Australian Aerial Medical Services (later to become the RFDS) was the first to be formed in 1934. As there is no outback in Victoria the general public lead by philanthropists inside the Presbyterian church initiated responsibility for providing aero medical and other services to the Kimberley region of Western Australia. This region is twice the size of Victoria but had a population of less than 20,000 people. The first base at Wyndham was opened in 1935.
New South Wales
The NSW Section was formed in 1936. Its Broken Hill base was initially operated jointly by the South Australian and New South Wales Sections and became operational in 1937. Later became known as South Eastern Section
South Australia and the Northern Territory
Central Operations was formed in 1936 and initially operated (from 1937) as the South Australian Section out of Broken Hill jointly with the New South Wales Section. The first base owned and operated independently by SA Section was opened in Alice Springs in 1939. The SA Section became Central Operations in 2001.
Goldfields Western Australia
The Eastern Goldfields Section was officially established in 1937. In the Kalgoorlie area aircraft were flown on medical missions as far back as the early 1930s - before they were used for this purpose in most other parts of Australia. At that time the Goldfields Flying Doctor Service provided a medical service for people in the outback. Earliest records of the Service go back to 1931 or 1932.
Rest of Western Australia
The Western Australian Section was officially registered on June 14, 1936. However, a provisional Section Committee had already bought a de Havilland Fox Moth Aircraft in 1935. The Section's first base at Port Hedland became operative on October 10 of that year, and the first medical flight was made on the opening day.
Although the RFDS began in Queensland, The Queensland Section was not registered in its own right until 1939. The Cloncurry base remained operational until 1964 when it was relocated to Mt Isa.
Tasmanian Section was the last Section to be formed in July 1960, although emergency medical flights were operated in Tasmania long before that, going back to the 1930s.
By the 1950s, the RFDS was acknowledged by former Prime Minister 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 Service rarely owned our own aircraft. We used contractors to provide aircraft, pilots and servicing. We progressively began to purchase our own aircraft and employ our own pilots and engineers.
Today, we own a fleet of 61 fully instrumented aircraft with the very latest in navigation technology. We operate 21 bases across Australia. Our pilots annually fly the equivalent of 25 round trips to the moon and our doctors and flight nurses are responsible for the care of over 270,000 patients! We’ve come a long way from that first flight in 1928 which saw the Flying Doctor airborne at last.