The Sugar Bird Lady

Meet one of the many out­back leg­ends pro­duced by the work of the RFDS dur­ing the past nine decades.

Australian Geographic - - Wild Australia -

Robin Miller fit a lot into her short life. A flight nurse and pi­o­neer­ing avi­a­tor, she com­bined her pas­sion for car­ing for the chil­dren of the bush with her love of flight.

A daugh­ter of revered writer Mary Du­rack and Cap­tain Hor­rie Miller, the founder of modern avi­a­tion in WA, Robin was born in 1940 and grew up on her fam­ily’s 7-mil­lionacre Kim­ber­ley pas­toral prop­erty, de­vel­op­ing a pro­found con­nec­tion to the land and its Indige­nous peo­ple. From the 1930s, the coun­try had been suf­fer­ing an out­break of deadly po­lio. De­spite the 1955 cre­ation of a vac­cine, by the mid-1960s many re­mote com­mu­ni­ties re­mained at risk from the in­fec­tious and in­cur­able dis­ease. So Robin went to the WA gov­ern­ment with a pro­posal. “She made them an of­fer they couldn’t refuse,” Robin’s sis­ter, Patsy Mil­lett, said. “She sug­gested to the health depart­ment that she go out into the re­mote ar­eas [by plane] and give them the im­mu­ni­sa­tion.” Fly­ing to these com­mu­ni­ties and ad­min­is­ter­ing the vac­cine on a sug­ar­cube to dis­guise its bit­ter taste, Robin be­came known as the Sugar Bird Lady.

Her cam­paign was hugely suc­cess­ful, hand­ing out 37,000 doses of the vac­cine.

She soon joined forces with the RFDS and worked un­der its aus­pices across the Kim­ber­ley and the Pil­bara, all the while com­pet­ing in air races. Trag­i­cally, in 1975 her life was cut short by can­cer at the age of just 35. She left a rich legacy, how­ever, not only through the lives she saved, but also through more modern at­ti­tudes to fe­male pi­lots and women in the bush.

Flight nurse and pilot Robin Miller, known as the Sugar Bird Lady by the Abo­rig­i­nal chil­dren she worked with, un­loads po­lio vac­cines at a bush surgery in north-western WA in the 1960s.

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