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The Flying Doctors

(Reprint from News: March 13, 2002)

March 13, 2002


While driving across the Outback during the past week, I’ve thought a lot about how people here have adapted to this dry and desolate environment.  It’s apparent in little things that, at first glance, seem a bit odd such as huge tanks that collect rainwater from the rooftops to use for drinking, the telephone poles made out of iron instead of wood, and the 150-foot long Road Trains.  But what about services like health-care and education?  Again, the Outback is a unique area so it’s no surprise that those resourceful Australians have developed unique solutions.


Back in 1928, an Australian reverend named John Flynn created The Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) to provide free medical services for people living in isolated areas of the Outback.  The RFDS is still operating and each day, RFDS planes criss-cross Australia performing emergency medical services as well as scheduled clinics, serving folks who live in remote cattle stations, roadhouses, and in Aboriginal communities, most of whom are hundred of miles from the nearest hospital.  Not only do these doctors make house calls, but they often fly over 500 miles in the process… not even Dominos can top that kind of service.


From a single plane and pilot in 1928, the RFDS has grown to a staff today of about 500, operating 40 planes from 20 bases around Australia, including the base that I visited in Alice Springs.  Each year, the RFDS flies over 10 million miles and performs about 24,000 aerial evacuations, all at no charge to the patients.  It’s a non-profit organization that operates almost solely on private donations, which explains the numerous signs that I’d seen during the past few weeks in small towns announcing RFDS benefit raffles and dances.  Australians are quite proud of the RFDS and rightly so.  More information on the Royal Flying Doctor Service is available at www.rfds.org.au. 


By the way, while I was in the RFDS Gift Shop, I spotted a cute stuffed bear wearing goggles and a leather RFDS flight jacket.  “Waldo” (whom I named after Robert Redford's pilot character, Waldo Pepper) is now propped up on the Camry’s back seat and greets everyone who passes by with a furry wave.


2-2864_RFDS_in_Alice_Springs.jpg (69601 bytes)    2-2854_Royal_Flying_Doctor_Service.jpg (41040 bytes)    2-2859_RFDS_Operation_Room.jpg (38024 bytes)

Above left:  The Royal Flying Doctors Service building in Alice Springs.

Above center:  Our nurse-guide telling us about the RFDS.

Above right:  The RFDS Operations Center.


2-2916_Waldo.jpg (43184 bytes)  

Left:  Waldo, my back-seat driver.



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