History of the Flying Doctor

The Royal Flying Doctor Service has a rich and vibrant history.

90 years of service and we are still here, and still needed. 

Doctor O'Leary

flying doc
Aerial Experiment
Flynn

RFDS Founder - Reverend John Flynn 

Reverend John Flynn witnessed the daily struggle of pioneers living in remote areas and had a vision to provide a 'mantle of safety' for the people of the bush. 

He once said "If you start something worthwhile - nothing can stop it",and this simple truth is evidenced by the RFDS today, almost 90 years on.

John Flynn Biography

'Flynn of the Inland'

In 1917, Flynn received an inspirational letter from Lieutenant Clifford Peel, a Victorian medical student with an interest in aviation. The young airman and war hero suggested the use of aviation to bring medical help to the Outback. Shot down in France, he died at just 24 years of age and never knew that his letter became a blueprint for the creation of the Flying Doctor Service.

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'An Aerial Experiment'

On 15 May 1928, Flynn's dream became a reality when a long time supporter, H.V. McKay, left a large bequest for 'an aerial experiment'. This enabled Flynn to open the Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service (later to be renamed the Royal Flying Doctor Service). The first Flying Doctor took flight on the 17th of May, 1928 in a single engine leased Qantas plane from Cloncurry, Queensland.

Alfred Traeger - Pedal Radio

The Flying Doctor Service lacked the communication technology to deliver services efficiently. Alfred Traeger helped to hurdle this barrier with the invention of a pedal-operated generator to power a radio receiver. By 1929 people living in isolation were able to call on the Flying Doctor to assist them in an emergency.

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The story of Jimmy Darcy

Kimberley stockman Jimmy Darcy suffered massive internal injuries on 29 July 1917 when his horse fell in a cattle stampede. His death attracted national headlines and proved the impetus for Reverend John Flynn's vision for an outback aeromedical service. Read his story

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Graphic: Queen visiting broken hill

“I have heard so much of the work of the Flying Doctor Service and the security and comfort it brings to every part of the outback.  I express my admiration to all those, past and present, who have contributed to its splendid work.” 

Queen Elizabeth II, 1955, speaking at the RFDS base in Broken Hill, NSW

New Sections & Expanding Reach

The growth of the RFDS in those early days was rapid and soon reached right across our vast continent. By the late 1930's there were Sections of the RFDS operating in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Northern Territory and of course Queensland.

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Logo

Since 1928, the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia has transformed its logo eight times to reflect the changing nature of the Service and to modernise its look. The logo used today represents a refinement of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia's symbol as it has evolved over the last ninety years.

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In 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"

From the 1960s

The RFDS moved away from using aircraft contractors to instead progressively purchasing our own aircraft and employing our own pilots and engineers. Today, we own a fleet of 69 fully instrumented aircraft and operate from 24 bases across Australia.

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In 1994

The Australian Council Office collaborated with the Reserve Bank of Australia on the design of the Australian twenty dollar note, to feature the face of the Reverend John Flynn.

20 dollar note info

See our 90 year timeline and add your Flying Doctor memories