Bay to Birdwood and the RFDS historic cars

Date published

24 Sep 2020

Iconic 1920s images showing the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s founder traversing the outback in a battered Dodge Buckboard are inspiring the restoration of two vintage cars in South Australia.

One rusty old replica of the Rev John Flynn’s famous Dodge was rescued from an Adelaide Hills paddock by RFDS Central Operations Chief Executive and car restoration enthusiast Tony Vaughan ASM.  It is now safely stored in the Barossa awaiting a new life with the service.

The other is a Dodge Tourer painted a faded racing green and black, previously owned by former RFDS doctor Ashley Thomas and now stowed at a former service base in Port Augusta.

“Dr Thomas was based in Port Augusta but has retired. He found the car somewhere in Wilmington in the mid-North and it still runs,” Mr Vaughan says.

Plans are underway to have both restored vehicles incorporated in displays at the RFDS Tourist Facilities in Alice Springs and Darwin.

Mr Vaughan says the discovery and restoration of the two vintage cars is a fitting project to mark this year’s partnership with one of the world’s great historic motoring events, the Bay to Birdwood historic vehicle weekend.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service has been chosen as the official Charity Partner for the event, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. 

On Sunday, September 27, drivers of vintage, veteran and classic vehicles will follow a 72km parade route from West Beach in Adelaide to the National Motor Museum in Birdwood.

Channel 44, in collaboration with Live Stream Australia, will capture the Bay to Birdwood event via live cameras, dash cams and drone vision being streamed from 8.30am via The Advertiser online and partnered social media platforms and pages.

“It’s special to be selected as a charity for such a historic and beloved Australian community event,” Mr Vaughan said.

“Our service celebrates and respects the past but focuses on the future. John Flynn travelled on camels first and then in the old Dodge, and now we fly all over the country and recognise the large distances he travelled in all sorts of conditions to preach and build churches and later, medical clinics.”


Mr Vaughan said the Dodge car Rev Flynn used could originally have been a Tourer. Many were cut down into buckboards that pre-dated the Aussie utes to better carry supplies or support agriculture work.

The RFDS’s beginnings reach back to Rev Flynn, a minister with the Presbyterian Church, who spent most of his life living in the outback, establishing hostels and bush hospitals for pastoralists, miners, road workers, railwaymen and other settlers.

It was his dream that led to the service now being one of the largest and most comprehensive aeromedical organisations in the world.

Using the latest in aviation, medical and communications technology, the RFDS delivers extensive primary health care and 24-hour emergency services to those who live, work and travel throughout regional and remote Australia.

“And we are there to watch over any of the participants in the Bay to Birdwood who also travel to the furthest corner of Australia in their vehicles,” Mr Vaughan says.

The Bay to Birdwood is supporting the Royal Flying Doctor Service this year. Click here to read The Advertiser story (subscriber only). 

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