Be alert and aware
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