Graphic: Joe Hughes
The Hughes family know firsthand how vital the Royal Flying Doctor Service is to outback New South Wales.
Joe Hughes and wife Mel live on the land at Belarabon Station, and have a deep understanding of why the Royal Flying Doctor Service is valued by rural communities.
“The strongest point to push with the Flying Doctors is it’s not just a bush person’s lifeline, it’s the bush people who keep it running. Anybody who’s travelling in the outback should be slinging a few bob in a donation box because more than likely if they have an accident; it will be the Flying Doctor that fly them to help.”
Based on a station south-west of Cobar, Joe has a passion for working with his hands. With a deep love for the outback landscape, the cattleman turned sheep producer spends time rescuing wild brumbies from locations across Australia and training them to help people in meaningful ways through his company 4BP Horses.
Facilitating clinics teaching people to work with brumbies, Joe puts what some would call a “pest” to good use. He finds they are particularly helpful for war veterans or those suffering from mental illness, the experience helping to heal past trauma. Joe’s training technique is gentle and personalised, using just a halter, rope and piece of cloth.
But living in rural and remote Australia has its challenges. Daily physical work can be tough on the body, and isolation can take a mental toll. Being so far removed from major towns and cities means a lack of access to vital health care and treatment. As a result, minor health problems can easily snowball. For Joe and his family, the closest doctor is a 250-kilometre round trip so it can be “tough going” if someone gets injured on the job.
The Flying Doctors bridge the gap, bringing quality medical services to regional and remote families like Joe’s. Joe has had his life saved by the service more than once.
“Coming home one time, I came off the road to give way to a car. As I came back onto the road I hit a big rock that was hidden in the bulldust. The collision spat me off 49 metres down the road, causing multiple breaks to the ribs, a broken back and a bruised brain.”
His wife Mel and their children have been rescued by the Flying Doctor too. “Mel’s been flown out maybe three or four times. She got flown out to Dubbo when Henry was born. Then she got flown out another time when she was very sick with a fever, and also when she got a big stick through her leg.”
The Royal Flying Doctor Service has been there for the Hughes’ in non-emergency situations too. The family are regulars at the Ivanhoe and Wilcannia fly-in clinics.
“I use the clinic because they don’t muck around. You only go to see the doctor every once in a while. So when you’re there they take your blood and temperatures and give you the once over to make sure you’re up to speed before they let you go again. The clinics are the way to go.”
The clinics bring the community together. “You get to have a chat to a few fellas in the waiting room. The nurses there are always very friendly and they want to suss you out to make sure that you’re all good and in the right headspace.”
On the 20th of July, 4BP Horses auctioned off a brumby at Tilpa races, with all proceeds going to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. “The last couple of years we’ve been auctioning off horses at Tilpa races for the Flying Doctor. Last year the auction raised $5,335.”
The Hughes is just one family of thousands that the Royal Flying Doctor Service provides care for. Their story shows the importance of people in the bush having access to quality medical treatment, both in emergency situations and through primary health care services.