Vernon with radio

The innovation that shaped today

Date published

17 May 2024

Celebrating 96 years of service, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland Section) (RFDS) continues to provide vital healthcare services to those living in regional, rural and remote Queensland.

Behind this legacy are many dedicated individuals who have tirelessly served over the years.  

Among them is Vernon Kerr, who was with the RFDS for more than 40 years, starting as a radio technician in Cloncurry.  

Vernon’s son, Grahame Kerr shared his father’s story of unwavering commitment and his passion for radio that endured a lifetime.  

 “I was born in Cloncurry and my dad had been with the Royal Flying Doctor Service for eight years,” Grahame said.  

Vernon was an electrical apprentice with a keen interest in radio innovation. His passion for experimenting with radio led to him being contacted by Reverend John Flynn and asked to join the Service in Cloncurry in 1934.  

Vernon was the assistant to radio operator Maurie Anderson until 1939 when Maurie was transferred to Alice Springs to set up the radio there and Vernon became the head radio technician.  

“It was just Dad left to run the show,” Grahame said.

Young Vernon

“He shifted the whole operation into a shop across from the post office in Cloncurry, which was going along alright until only a year later when a fire occurred.” 

On a quiet Saturday afternoon, Vernon and Graham were out at the remote receiving station, which Vernon had designed and created when the fire siren rang out. From the top of the hill, Vernon immediately identified where the fire was and rushed to the scene.  

“In the trusty little Morris Minor Ute, we drove down to the Service office building and everything was well and truly alight,” Grahame remembers.  

“Dad was on the footpath yelling for people to help give him a hand in getting the equipment out.

Vernon with radio

“Luckily, he could salvage a transmitter that he had built for the Service.  

“The building was a total loss, but being dad, he was loaned a receiver from the Cloncurry airport that was tunable to the Flying Doctor Service frequencies.  

“Using the amateur radio set up we had at home, Dad altered our aerial and his equipment and by Monday morning he was back online ready to support the people of the outback from our front verandah.” 

Vernon's unwavering dedication to serving the community saw him working from his verandah for three years until the completion of the new base building. This became the final site of operations in Cloncurry before its closure in 1952.

Charters Towers

There was a need to move the operation as communities along the east could not hear the Flying Doctor radio. After conducting extensive research for the new location, Vernon decided Charters Towers had the best reception.  

In 1952, the Charters Towers radio section of the Service was established. The building was designed by Vernon and his wife to accommodate the family and the radio operations within the same building. Designed in a U shape, one side was the Flying Doctor, and the other side was where they lived for 21 years.  

“In 1973, the decision was made to close Charters Towers operation and move everything to Cairns,” Grahame said.  

“Dad went down to Charleville to finish off his time, then returned to Charters Towers to retire in 1977.”

Mike and Grahame

While operations have changed significantly since the pedal radio days, Grahame is sure Vernon would have loved to see just how far technology has come. 

“I think Dad would feel very pleased about how the organisation has grown and become so much better,” Grahame said.  

“He was a true pioneer, despite the difficulty put in front of him after the fire and moving to different sites, he always pushed through and prioritised his role with the RFDS.” 

Today on Flying Doctor Day we acknowledge and honour Vernon’s four decades of dedication and innovation which was integral to the history of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.