Be alert and aware

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Australia - CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

YOUcould drive seem­ingly for­ever in the out­back with­out coming upon a sin­gle soul. But there are com­fort­ing sig­nals that, should things go wrong, you’re never quite alone.

Yel­low sign­boards on re­mote dirt roads in­di­cate you’re driv­ing on emer­gency Royal Fly­ing Doc­tor Ser­vice airstrips. White run­way signs have been painted on to long stretches of bi­tu­men and sign­boards list emer­gency phone num­bers.

City trav­ellers who come to grief com­prise about a quar­ter of emer­gency evac­u­a­tions un­der­taken by the RFDS. It’s a ser­vice de­liv­ered by medics whose skills have been honed in the most try­ing con­di­tions, with pa­tients so ge­o­graph­i­cally iso­lated they might be a day’s drive or more from the near­est hospi­tal.

When stock­man Jimmy McG­lynn col­lided with a steer while rid­ing his mo­tor­bike on a sta­tion north of Alice Springs sev­eral years ago, he wasn’t ex­pected to sur­vive. ‘‘We gave him the best care that we could,’’ says RFDS flight nurse Julie Bird. ‘‘But when we said good­bye to him in Dar­win, I was cer­tainly left won­der­ing what the out­come would be.’’

Eight months later, he was back at work, mus­ter­ing cat­tle and thank­ing the RFDS for sav­ing his life. McG­lynn’s story is re­counted at the state-of-theart RFDS Vis­i­tor Cen­tre in Alice Springs. The or­gan­i­sa­tion’s his­tory is il­lus­trated through arte­facts, per­sonal sto­ries, old footage and a pow­er­ful short film about the world’s first com­pre­hen­sive ae­rial health ser­vice.

It was the iso­la­tion of North­ern Ter­ri­to­ri­ans that prompted the Rev­erend John Flynn to re­lease the report that led to the cre­ation of the Aus­tralian In­land Mis­sion Ae­rial Med­i­cal Ser­vice in 1928, an or­gan­i­sa­tion com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing a ‘‘man­tle of care’’ to pioneers liv­ing in iso­lated lo­ca­tions. The ser­vice would ul­ti­mately be­come the RFDS, an in­sti­tu­tion now beloved of re­mote dwellers and in­trepid trav­ellers alike.

It’s ap­pro­pri­ate that ad­ven­tur­ers who come to Alice Springs via the in­ter­minable stretches of road that link it to other parts of the coun­try stop in and pay their respects to the or­gan­i­sa­tion on which they may well de­pend should they get into strife.

They will dis­cover here that the ser­vice has grown ex­po­nen­tially, from an out­sta­tion at Ood­na­datta staffed by just one nurs­ing sis­ter and a padre to a slick, na­tion­wide op­er­a­tion that in­spired a tele­vi­sion se­ries, The Fly­ing Doc­tors. And they might well be shocked to learn that the not-for-profit ser­vice re­lies on the gen­eros­ity of the pub­lic to stay in busi­ness.

Vis­i­tors can poke their heads in­side a replica fuse­lage of a Pi­la­tus PC-12, fly an RFDS plane in a flight sim­u­la­tor, use an orig­i­nal Traeger pedal ra­dio and ex­am­ine the an­ti­quated con­tents of the medicine chests used in the ser­vice’s early days. But per­haps most im­por­tantly, they can re­flect on the value of stay­ing alert and aware while ad­ven­tur­ing in the out­back.


Royal Fly­ing Doc­tor Ser­vice staff board a pa­tient dur­ing a train­ing ex­er­cise

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