Anna Van Der Werf

Meekatharra Flight Nurse retires after 18 years of service with the RFDS

Date published

27 Jun 2022

In a piece entitled 'Last Flight Out', Flight Nurse Anna Van Der Werf reflects on her time as a nurse and as a flight nurse serving the Midwest and beyond with the Royal Flying Doctor Service out of the Meekatharra base.


After 18 years as the Senior Base Flight Nurse in Meekatharra I felt the time had come to hang up the red and blue colours of the RFDS.  

18 years sounds like a long time but of course Meekatharra is not my whole story.

My story began more then 51 years ago when I started my nursing training in the Netherlands. It was then on to becoming a midwife and my love for nursing was born. 

Migrating to Australia with my husband was our next big adventure, to an unknown land and warmer climate. 

Starting off in the major tertiary hospitals in Sydney in ICU and anesthetics lead us to buying our first caravan. 

Australia's outback was calling us. First the Regional Country hospitals and soon to remote locations. From East Arnhem Land to the NT, Outback Queensland to the Central Desert and the Ngaanyatjarra people. I found my calling and passion as a Remote Area Nurse (RAN) and working in the desert communities.

My connection with the RFDS had begun as soon as we started travelling and exploring this great land.

Anna Van Der Werf

The RFDS was of course always present in my work as a RAN. 

They, the doctors, co-ords and Flight Nurses were an enormous support to me. In the many consultations and evacuations requests at any time of the day, the people that answered my calls were always kind and helpful. 

We always loved seeing the RFDS arrive, not only helping by taking our worrisome sick patients away to a better place but also by bringing us all sorts of goodies. 

The Flight Nurses always knew what we were craving out in the bush; newspapers, even if they were a week old, magazines, knitting wool or some other special orders we had put in. The Kalgoorlie crew even brought us some KFC one day, I just loved them.

One night when I was the RAN in Warburton I had two sick babies that needed flying out with bronchiolitis. Not long before the plane landed a third sick baby had come into the clinic. I pleaded with the FN if she could please take this baby as well. After consultations and organising families on my part, the Flight Nurse was happy to take on the task. I was so grateful and remember it well.

It can be a hard job out bush all by yourself, up all night and to be present again in the day. Having limited resources and back up available for any deteriorating patients, let alone sick babies.

Anna with aircraft

All this was leading up to my curiosity to have a look at the actual work on the other side of the fence. 

I wanted to stay remote and applied for a job with the RFDS in Meekatharra. It was difficult to get in as there was not a big turnover of staff. The 'town' of Meekatharra was a more bustling place with a larger population than today. There was a Woolies, a coffee and take away shop, a news-agency and hairdresser and four pubs. 

We were all working and living full time in Meekatharra for the first four years I was there. The FIFO workforce only came about later due to the dwindling population and closure of mines when it became harder to retain staff. When most of the FN's group became FIFO I did join them and my husband went on to renovating our cottage in SA.

I loved my work with RFDS, helping out at all times to pick up the sick people from remote locations who were in need of specialist care in the city. 

I loved the environment of working on the plane, so totally different from anything else in nursing. Patients, staff and families are always happy to see you when you come to transfer them, what is not to like about that! 

Anna inside PTA

The uniqueness of being an RFDS Flight Nurse is a very privileged job. 

To be the link between the remoteness and specialist care is enormously important. 

To be able to give them the best of care in that transition and the reassurances of taking them to specialist care makes it just the greatest job. 

Nothing like this exists in the Netherlands and all my family back home are very proud of me for working with such an iconic institution. 

They only know the RFDS from the famous TV show and dream of the Australian Outback. 

Last flight out Anna Van Der Werf

Magic moments for me are having landed safely somewhere remote at night, due to the expertise skills of our great RFDS pilots.

Looking up at the stars and noting the stillness of the outback you do feel specially lucky to be doing this job. 

The uniqueness of working closely with the pilots, through all sorts of weather, and getting the best outcomes for the patients makes it very special and leaves me with many great memories.

For any new staff members: Enjoy the flight, know how special the job is, be kind to RAN's, appreciate the small team and work well together as you do need each other to give the best of care and outcomes for our remote patients.

I was glad that my work with the RFDS was the last chapter in the many chapters of my nursing career and who knows I may in retirement write a book about it all (for the Grandkids). 

Happy Flying,

Anna Van Der Werf