Graphic: Kids waving at plane

Flying Doctor unites outback community

Date published

09 Nov 2015

Five-year-old cousins Deborah and Hamish Bayley have finished School of the Air for the day while the mustering has been paused for a day so everyone can catch up on odd jobs around the homestead.

The kettle's on, there's a cake baking in the oven and a sense of anticipation hangs over the house as they wait for the doctor.

Soon after mid-morning an engine roars in the distance and the kids and dogs jump into the four-wheel-drive with mum and race the kilometre down to the airstrip to meet the Flying Doctor.

Ingomar Station, as the crow flies, is 800 kilometres north-west of Adelaide on the way to Coober Pedy in South Australia's North-West Pastoral District. It is one of a number of cattle stations in the district.

Deborah and Hamish, and their younger siblings, babies George and Maddison, are due for immunisations and their parents, Letisha McKenzie, and Rinnah Ward and Lachie Bayley,

On a fortnightly or monthly basis, RFDS fly-in GP and Community Health Nurse clinics visit remote stations and communities up and down the Birdsville Track, the North West Pastoral, the Gawler Ranges and the far west of SA to stations and the remote Aboriginal communities of Yalata and Oak Valley.

While they are hundreds of kilometres away physically, in reality they are like a community, with the Flying Doctor the glue that links them all together.

Graphic: Rinnah Ward and baby Maddison

Both of the Bayley babies are due for immunisations and check-ups from Community Health Nurse Cheryl Boles and Doctor Betsy Williams, both of whom have cared for the Bayley
children since they were born.

Rinnah Ward, mother of Hamish and Maddison, says it would be difficult being a first-time mum in the outback without the RFDS on hand 24/7 for advice and care.

"It's peace of mind knowing there's a doctor on the end of the telephone or coming out on a regular clinic flight to reassure you on a lot of things," Rinnah says.

For David and Megan Henderson, who drove to Glendambo airstrip from Mt Vivian Station, the visit from the Flying Doctor means the difference between taking precious time off,
often an entire day or two, to go to town by road to see the doctor.

"If we didn't have the RFDS come to us we'd need to add a visit to the doctor or dentist to all of the other jobs for the next time we go to town in Port Augusta," Megan Henderson

That means a road trip of around six hours for the Hendersons who run 20,000 sheep and 300 cattle on Mount Vivian and Kokatha stations, which they manage with their son Will.

"One of the great things is that we have the same doctors come to visit, there's a continuity of care from the RFDS," Megan says.

"It's also great having a female doctor; we don't always have that choice out here."

In 2014/15, the RFDS Port Augusta Base conducted 255 'fly-in' GP clinics and attended to 2,255 patients, many of them station people just like the Hendersons and the Bayleys.

Just like people living in the city, the RFDS service means they have a familiar face in their own community doctors and nurses.

From immunisations, health check-ups, referrals or management of chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular illness and general lifestyle issues, the RFDS clinics mean there is regular medical assistance when needed for people living and working in remote Australia.