JANUARY: Keeping a bird’s eye view on wellbeing

Date published

11 Dec 2020

The RFDS opened its first regular mental health service at Andamooka in Far North South Australia in January to meet growing demand, with our dedicated team undertaking more than 100 patient contacts in the first 12 months.

The new drive-in, drive-out service now runs monthly to support Andamooka locals.

Andamooka is the ninth location to be regularly visited by the RFDS Mental Health & Wellbeing team, joining other isolated communities such as Marree, Oak Valley and the Nullarbor Roadhouse.

“Our communities are used to isolation but there have been added pressures around COVID-19,” RFDS Wellbeing & Mental Health team leader Justine Cooney (pictured above) said.

“People may be losing their jobs, for example, and this is putting a strain on finances or relationships,” Ms Cooney said.

“Some outback stations have found it difficult to have visitors or employees onsite, as nobody has wanted to be the station or community to allow COVID-19 into remote areas.”

Overall demand for the Flying Doctor’s mental health and wellbeing service surged in 2020 as digital consultations doubled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As restrictions challenged face-to-face appointments earlier this year, the RFDS team rapidly expanded its telephone and digital health services while also creating a new dedicated Facebook Group for remote South Australians in March.

“We delivered alerts to people about COVID-19 restrictions, along with health promotions and activities,” Ms Cooney said.

“It really opened up our ability, our timeframe and our availability to dedicate more time to client contacts.”


This has been a year where the team has not only expanded, but also re-invented the way it supports its communities with creative approaches and programs.

The RFDS supported the Alice Springs-based Yulara Indigenous Trainee Program with regular group wellbeing activities and guided discussions around health, relationships, nutrition and work/life balance.

While a Yoga on the Fly project saw older residents congregate at the Glendambo Hotel in SA’s Far North to bend and stretch in class while watching instructors via large screens.

Fortnightly yoga sessions supported by a Sport Australia’s Move It Australia grant have reached more than 80 participants in Andamooka, Hawker and Yalata over the past year. 

Before the program, only 17 per cent of participants were practising strength, balance or resistance exercises.

Through a partnership with Natural Resources Management SA (Arid Lands), the team also hosted an online landscape painting class with Broome artist James Down and a virtual beauty session with a Roxby Downs-based beautician advising on skin care.

On the ground, the Flying Doctor team established a dedicated fortnightly wellbeing clinic in Oodnadatta and, in partnership with headspace, continued to deliver child and youth support to isolated families in Marree and Oodnadatta.

“As we travel as part of the RFDS Primary Health Care Service, we can provide a holistic approach to health. A lot of our referrals come from our GPs and medical health professionals identifying someone who may need our support. From here, we can sit down and put in place a multi-disciplinary care plan from the outset,” Ms Cooney said.

The Flying Doctor is now working to further expand the RFDS Mental Health & Wellbeing Program, including to the Leigh Creek community from 2021.