Celebrating the Flying Doctor's first female pilot

Celebrating our first female Flying Doctor pilot

Date published

22 Feb 2022

In 1958, Beth Garret became the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s first female pilot. A pioneer in her field, Beth was also the first woman in Australia to receive her Airline Transport Licence and to be employed as an Aero Club instructor.

Beth Garrett

With aspirations of becoming a pilot from an early age, Beth waited until she was 21 — so she would not require her mother’s permission — to start her training with the Royal Victorian Aero Club.

Growing up on a property in the Riverina District of New South Wales, Beth lived with her widowed mother who was not only concerned for her daughter’s safety if she were to become a pilot but also about how much her training would cost.

Undeterred by her mother’s concerns, Beth obtained her pilot licence in 1947 and her commercial and instructor rating in 1952 — all paid for from her receptionist salary and years of frugal saving, including wearing the same smart blue uniform every day for three years after purchasing it at a Myers bargain basement sale.

After working as an instructor pilot for a few years, Beth applied for and was successful in obtaining a position with the RFDS — a role which deeply excited her as she would be flying a Beechcraft Queen Air, which was arguably one of the best aircraft in the country at the time.

Described as ‘a forthright but pleasant lady who softened hard words with a ready smile’, Beth’s work saw her travel to some of the most remote locations in Queensland, including the northernmost tip of Cape York to transport RFDS primary health care crews and retrieve the critically ill.

After a long and rewarding career, Beth retired from the RFDS in the mid-1980s, where she was the chief RFDS pilot in Cairns. Following in her mother’s footsteps. Beth’s daughter is also a pilot.

Beth Garrett featured in Australia's Women's Weekly

Interested in becoming an RFDS pilot? Visit our careers page.