Graphic: Bob and Helen
In the heart of the Queensland outback, Bob and Helen, have woven their own chapter into the rich tapestry of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) (Queensland Section) Charleville Base. With decades of combined service, their journey stands as a testament to unwavering dedication and a deep affinity for rural healthcare.
Bob's entry into the medical field was somewhat unconventional. After spending years living on a sheep station in south-west Queensland with wife Helen, he recognised a gap in rural and remote healthcare. This is something he thought he could fill, so at age 28 he enrolled in medical school at the University of Queensland, eventually earning his qualifications in 1978.
For the next decade, Bob completed further study in emergency medicine obstetrics and gained work experience. Then, in 1988 he commenced his role at the RFDS Charleville base, taking on the mantle of Senior Medical Officer – a position he held until 2003.
Eventually Helen joined Bob as an RFDS Flight Nurse in 1991, leaving an indelible mark until 1995. For her, the path into nursing was marked by a simple realisation. When asked in the early days of her training why she chose that career, her response was candid; she couldn’t think of anything better to do.
“When I was asked why I wanted to become a nurse, I had never really thought about doing anything else,” Helen said.
“Nursing was a calling for me, an opportunity to be of service and make a positive impact on people’s lives.
“When Bob and I moved to Charleville together to start working for the RFDS, it was the perfect opportunity to start the next chapter of our lives together, supporting our local community through a shared affinity for healthcare.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better life-partner to have done this with.”
Among the many remarkable missions completed throughout his tenure, one standout for Bob, who was based at the hospital at this time, was a desperate call from a mother whose two-year-old son was bitten by a snake and needed urgent help.
With 650km between the boy and emergency medical care, Bob provided over-the-phone advice which allowed the mother to provide urgent support while Bob flew to their location.
When the RFDS arrived, the boy was immobile but conscious, allowing the medical team to safely transfer him onto the plane and fly to the Charleville hospital. Bob then worked with the hospital's doctors to identify the type of venom and provide specialist treatment, leading to his full recovery.
“It was a moment that demonstrated the critical nature of our work, and it was times like these that highlighted the real impact we could make in the lives of regional Queenslanders,” Bob said.
The essence of their experience at the RFDS Charleville Base can be distilled into a deep appreciation for the people they served and worked alongside. Helen said their connection with patients extended beyond the confines of the base, forming lasting bonds that are still cherished today.
“Our patients became an extension of our RFDS family,” Helen said.
“Their stories, their resilience, became a source of inspiration for us and even years later, we remember their faces and the moments we shared.”
Witnessing the evolution of the RFDS over the years has been a source of both nostalgia and pride for Bob and Helen. They've seen the organisation grow and adapt, all while holding fast to its foundational values of service and compassion.
“Being part of the Charleville Base’s 80-year history fills us with immense pride and gratitude,” Helen said.
“We’ve had the opportunity to support so many people living in the bush, and this celebration is a true testament to the legacy of John Flynn and the vision he set in motion.”
From their formative years in the bush to witnessing the organisation’s incredible growth, this milestone is a celebration of a life lived in service to others, where every day has been an adventure worth cherishing.