Celebrating ninety years

Still here, still needed: The Royal Flying Doctor Service provides 24-hour emergency care to people over an area of 7.69 million square kilometres.
Still here, still needed: The Royal Flying Doctor Service provides 24-hour emergency care to people over an area of 7.69 million square kilometres.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service has a rich and vibrant history.

August 22, 2018, will mark 101 years since the death of a little-known outback stockman who attracted national headlines and proved to be the catalyst for Reverend John Flynn's vision for an outback aeromedical service.

Kimberley stockman Jimmy Darcy suffered massive internal injuries on July 29, 1917, when his horse fell in a cattle stampede. 

An 80-kilometre ride on a dray over a rough track took him to the nearest settlement of Halls Creek in the far north of Western Australia.

Jimmy Darcy needed immediate lifesaving surgery and with the nearest doctor thousands of kilometres away, Halls Creek postmaster Fred Tuckett had to perform emergency surgery with the help of morse code, a penknife and some morphine.

It was 2800km from Halls Creek where a doctor in Perth, Dr Joe Holland, instructed Tuckett via morse code how to carry out the surgery on Jim Darcy.

Tuckett worked for hours, cutting and stitching, stopping every few minutes to check the doctor's telegrams.

The operation of Darcy's ruptured bladder was a success but the 29-year-old stockman was weakened and suffering from malaria.

Dr Holland made a mercy dash from Perth boarding a cattle ship which took a week to reach Derby and then spent six days in a Model T Ford to save the stockman's life.

The car conked out 40km from Halls Creek.

Dr Holland walked for two hours to a nearby cattle station and rode through the night to reach the town at daybreak.

Jimmy Darcy had died a few hours earlier.

The heartbreaking story is told in the book, The Man on The Twenty Dollar Notes, in which Brisbane author Everald Compton documents the extraordinary life of Reverend John Flynn.

Lieutenant Clifford Peel, a young Victorian medical student and pilot shipping out to the war in France, wrote to Flynn suggesting that aviation could transform the outback.

Flynn was deeply affected by Darcy's death and wanted to provide a 'mantle of safety' for people living, working and travelling in the outback.

Peel was shot down and killed the following year, unaware that he had planted a seed that would save thousands of lives.

In its inaugural year in 1928, the Aerial Medical Service (which changed its name to the Flying Doctor Service in 1942 and the Royal Flying Doctor Service in 1955) flew 50 flights to 26 destinations and treated 225 patients.

Ninety years on 336,358 total patient contacts were made through RFDS clinics, aeromedical transports and telehealth consultations last year.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service is one of the largest and most comprehensive aeromedical organisations in the world, providing extensive primary health care and 24-hour emergency services to people over an area of 7.69 million square kilometres.

RFDS chief executive officer John Lynch said RFDS still works to ensure nobody is deprived of equal access to health services.

“From 225 patients to more than 300,000 in 2017 you can tell the amount of lives we've touched, impacted and in the vast majority, changed for the better,” John said, “On a mission of mercy, the Royal Flying Doctor Service has no bounds for race or creed.”

John Flynn once said, “If you start something worthwhile - nothing can stop it.”

As part of their 90th-anniversary celebrations, the Royal Flying Doctor Services is hosting a variety of events starting with a birthday breakfast on Tuesday, May 15.

Triple M will be broadcasting from the RFDS control room Friday morning and the 2018 RFDS Ball will take place at 6.30pm on Friday, May 18 too.

The black-tie ball will feature the Unusualist Raymond Crowe, live music and a three-course meal.

Tickets are selling fast.

The RFDS race meeting will take place on Saturday, May 19.