The RFDS began as the dream of the Rev John Flynn, a minister with the Presbyterian Church. He witnessed the daily struggle of pioneers living in remote areas where just two doctors provided the only medical care for an area of almost 2 million square kilometres. Flynn’s vision was to provide a ‘mantle of safety’ for these people and on 15 May 1928, his dream had become a reality with the opening of the Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service (later renamed the Royal Flying Doctor Service) in Cloncurry, Queensland.
Over the next few years, the RFDS began to expand across the country.
The Victorian Section of the Australian Aerial Medical Services (later to become the RFDS) was the first to be formed in 1934. As there is no outback in Victoria the general public lead by philanthropists inside the Presbyterian church initiated responsibility for providing aero medical and other services to the Kimberley region of Western Australia. This region is twice the size of Victoria but had a population of
New South Wales
The NSW Section was formed in 1936. Its Broken Hill base was initially operated jointly by the South Australian and New South Wales Sections and became operational in 1937. Later became known as South Eastern Section
South Australia and the Northern Territory
Central Operations was formed in 1936 and initially operated (from 1937) as the South Australian Section out of Broken Hill jointly with the New South Wales Section. The first base owned and operated independently by SA Section was opened in Alice Springs in 1939. The SA Section became Central Operations in 2001.
Goldfields Western Australia
The Eastern Goldfields Section was officially established in 1937. In the Kalgoorlie area aircraft were flown on medical missions as far back as the early 1930s - before they were used for this purpose in most other parts of Australia. At that time the Goldfields Flying Doctor Service provided a medical service for people in the outback. Earliest records of the Service go back to 1931 or 1932.
Rest of Western Australia
The Western Australian Section was officially registered on June 14, 1936. However, a provisional Section Committee had already bought a de Havilland Fox Moth Aircraft in 1935. The Section's first base at Port Hedland became operative on October 10 of that year, and the first medical flight was made on the opening day.
Although the RFDS began in Queensland, The Queensland Section was not registered in its own right until 1939. The Cloncurry base remained operational until 1964 when it was relocated to Mt Isa.
Tasmanian Section was the last Section to be formed in July 1960, although emergency medical flights were operated in Tasmania long before that, going back to the 1930s.
By the 1950s, the RFDS was acknowledged by former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies as “perhaps the single greatest contribution to the effective settlement of the far distant country that we have witnessed in our time.”
Until the 1960s, the Service rarely owned our own aircraft. We used contractors to provide aircraft, pilots and servicing. We progressively began to purchase our own aircraft and employ our own pilots and engineers.
Today, we own a fleet of 61 fully instrumented aircraft with the very latest in navigation technology. We operate 21 bases across Australia. Our pilots annually fly the equivalent of 25 round trips to the moon and our doctors and flight nurses are responsible for the care of over 270,000 patients! We’ve come a long way from that first flight in 1928 which saw the Flying Doctor airborne at last.
About Medical Chests
In 1939, Dr Keith Sweetman identified that a lot of radio time was being wasted by questioning the outposts as to what was available in their first aid kits. The majority had haphazard collections of patient medicines, "a first aid set augmented by this and that."
In 1942, the annual RFDS Federal Council meeting decided on standardisation of the medicine chests and their contents and then in 1989, the RFDS took total responsibility for administering medical chests.
RFDS medical chests contain a range of pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical items, which enable emergency and non-emergency treatment to be given to people living and working in remote areas. The chests are an important tool to enable RFDS medical practitioners to treat people on-site for many conditions and to provide necessary treatment (e.g. pain relief) for those requiring emergency evacuation. They also provide enormous comfort to those living in the outback.
The medical chest has evolved over many years to cover a number of medical conditions that would be difficult for people living and working in remote areas to treat. As such, it contains a large number of "prescription only" pharmaceutical items. It is a condition for the provision of the chest that these drugs be used only on the advice of a registered RFDS doctor.
Across Australia, the RFDS is responsible for over 3,000 medical chests located in remote locations across Australia, including parks, police stations, remote homesteads, pastoral stations, hotels, roadhouses, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, outback schools and mining exploration sites. The contents of the chest are reviewed regularly at a national level to ensure relevancy and currency of pharmaceuticals.