Vintage aircraft takes off at Dubbo

Graphic: Vintage aircraft takes off at Dubbo

First flight remembered with Great Pilgrimage

Date published

09 Aug 2018

A magnificent squadron of 26 vintage aircraft flew from NSW to Queensland to mark the 90th anniversary of the Royal Flying Doctor Service in May.

The Great Pilgrimage set out from the rapidly-expanding RFDS base at Dubbo airport after a breakfast barbecue on the morning of Wednesday 9 May.

Over the following week, the vintage aeroplanes made their way to Moree, Roma, Charleville, Longreach, Winton, Cloncurry, Julia Creek, and completed the pilgrimage at Mount Isa on 17 May.

The pilgrimage celebrated the inaugural flight of the Australian Aerial Medical Service, which would eventually be called The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (RFDS), when the Queen gave her official patronage after her visit to Broken Hill in 1954.

On the morning of May 17 1928, an emergency call was received from the Julia Creek Bush Nursing Home – about 96km from Cloncurry in Western Queensland. Pilot Arthur Affleck – flying without communications or a navigation aid – and Dr Kenyon St Vincent Welch took off in a single engine De Haviland 50 bi-plane named Victory leased from the fledgling Qantas airline for two shillings a mile. History records that the two patients Dr Welch operated on both survived.

This flight marked the beginning of one of the world’s first aeromedical services, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which was created by The Reverend John Flynn.

“This was a significant moment in Australian history,” Greg Sam, CEO of the Royal Flying Doctor Service South Eastern Section (RFDS SE) said.

“John Flynn knew of the hardships in the bush through his Ministry. He wanted to throw what he called '…a mantle of safety' over those who sought to wrest a living out of the hard, unyielding outback, which formed a significant part of our economy at that time.”

This year’s Great Pilgrimage included historic aircraft, registered through the Antique Aeroplane Association of Australia, that were led by two 1930s Tiger Moths and a 1950s Hercules transport from the RAAF.

“While this year’s Great Pilgrimage had a strong historical focus, it was also about anticipating the next 90 years,” Mr Sam said.

“The RFDS is just as relevant today as it was in 1928. We have a ‘waiting room’ of about 7.6 million km2 and during the past year we flew 24.6 million kms to help almost 339,000 people, which is the equivalent of one every two minutes.

“Every day right across Australia the RFDS delivers vital emergency and primary healthcare services, including: mental health, oral health, GP clinics, alcohol and other drugs services, breast care, Women and children’s healthcare – as well as a range of specialist clinics.

“We are dedicated to delivering the finest care to the furthest corners and reducing the gap in health and wellness between those living in remote, rural and regional areas and those in the cities.”