National Museum

Flying Doctor lands at the National Museum of Australia

Date published

16 Aug 2018
Senator Mckenzie opening exhibit

A historic 1960s medical chest and an innovative early pedal generator and radio transceiver used on remote outback homesteads, feature in a new exhibit at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, celebrating the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s 90th year.

The Federal Rural Health Minister, Honourable Senator Bridget McKenzie joined RFDS Federation Board Chair, Amanda Vanstone, and NMA director, Dr Mathew Trinca, to open the new exhibit last night.


Commemorating the ingenuity and commitment of the 1928 founders of the RFDS, the exhibit explores the way transport and communication networks have connected Australians across our vast continent.

The RFDS CEO, Dr Martin Laverty, said “through a partnership with the National Museum of Australia we are excited to create an exhibit that tells the historical and contemporary significance of the Service and the role it plays in bringing health services to country Australians”, said Dr Laverty.

NMA curator Laina Hall said the exhibit is the culmination of a two-year collaboration between the NMA and RFDS to establish a collection of material for National Historical Collection.

“The innovative use of cutting edge technology, such as aviation and radio, by the Royal Flying Doctor Service revolutionised the way people in remote Australia not only accessed medical care, but communicated with each other,” said Dr Hall.

The exhibit in the NMA’s Landmarks Gallery includes a medical chest and its contents developed by Dr Keith Sweetman, a flying doctor based in Western Australia, to enable people in remote locations to administer first aid treatment, under the ‘radio’ guidance of a Flying Doctor. The standardised medical chests are still in use today, with more than 3000 distributed across remote Australia.

The exhibit also showcases a 1930s pedal generator developed by Alfred Traeger, which enabled a radio transceiver to be powered when no other electricity was available.

A radio transceiver used to receive and transmit messages between homesteads and RFDS bases; a propeller blade from an RFDS plane; and 1980s RFDS board game, also feature in the exhibit.

The exhibit includes current-day interviews with a former Flying Doctor patient who almost lost her life in a horrific farming accident, an RFDS clinician who has spent decades servicing families and communities in remote South Australia, and a fifth generation country boy who is now an RFDS pilot based in Charleville Queensland.

The exhibit will be on display in the museum for the next four years. 

Staff Award Winners

As part of the evening five special RFDS staff from across Australia were recognised for their integrity, innovation and dedication to the RFDS.