Graphic: RFDSSE President's Message

Message from South Eastern President Ruth Sandow

Date published

03 Apr 2019
Ruth Sandow

It was almost two years ago in June 2017 that I attended my first Royal Flying Doctor Service Federation Board meeting. 

Members were shown the photograph to be added to the next generation $20 note. The note has, as we know, always recognised the work of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and founder John Flynn.


The new note will continue that theme but it was the photograph to be used that caught my attention. I just happen to know it well and the location where it was taken, The Veldt, just 40 kilometres southwest of Packsaddle. At the time the property was owned by the Barlow family. 


The photograph is one of a staged publicity event sometime between 1942 and 1945. On the day, the Flying Doctor plane circled over the homestead as if to land, while the Barlow family, including daughters Helen and Judith, waited for the aircraft. A new “airstrip” had been graded so that the cameraman could get a shot of the aircraft as it flew past the homestead. Special effects included fires being lit to help the pilot locate the strip.


Photographs were also taken in the homestead with Mrs Barlow ‘speaking’ to the doctor while Judith pedaled and of her using the Flying Doctor’s medicine chest as Judith posed ill in bed. Some of you will be familiar with these pictures as they have been shared for more than 60 years.


While these are images of a different time their significance cannot be under-estimated. We wear different clothes, use different technologies to communicate, fly different aircraft, but still rely on the Royal Flying Doctor Service to provide healthcare in the bush, in an emergency and at clinics, 90 years on.


When I returned to Broken Hill on the day after that first Federation Board meeting I went to see Helen. I’m sure you can imagine how excited she and Judith were to receive the news that this photo would be on the new $20 note, and how much we have collectively wanted to share it.  We managed to contain our excitement until the Governor General’s announcement in February, however we will all need to wait until October to hold one of the new notes in our hands.


As I write, we are also still waiting for rain.  We had an extremely hot summer, in a number of places breaking past records. There really has been no relief from the drought and the situation in the Darling River and at Menindee is causing a great deal of heartache for so many.  Poor water quality and the heat have caused a number of health issues and we are reaching out to the most remote communities through our primary healthcare clinics as well as improving access to mental health support. I’m sure that I am not the only one grateful for the health team’s help during this time.


Later this year we will open the much awaited Dubbo Multipurpose Centre, and I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of fellow director Terry Clarke and the Dubbo Support Group without whose dedication and hard work over many years we may not have seen this investment in the future come to fruition.


We continue to also be grateful to all our supporters and donors, you literally do ‘keep the Flying Doctor Flying’. Thank you all.

Ruth Sandow
President, RFDS SE Section