Meet…The Flying Doctors
Random House, Australia, 2016
32pp., hbk., RRP$A24.99
In 1911 John Flynn went to work on a mission more than 500 kilometres from Adelaide, the beginning of a journey for which thousands of people have been grateful for over the decades since then. In what is still a remote area, Flynn was greatly disturbed by the lack of medical facilities beyond the metropolitan areas . Not satisfied with patients being treated by those with a rudimentary knowledge of first aid with support being sent in Morse code over the telegraph system, while doctors could take weeks to reach them using whatever transport was available. Flynn knew there had to be a better way and so began his quest to find a solution.
Flight seemed the obvious answer but in those days both planes and pilots were hard to come by and it took 10 years of campaigning before his first plane was ready for service. In 1928, his dream came true – he formed the Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service using a single-engine plane on loan from QANTAS< aptly named Victory. Immediately there was a difference – 50 missions and 255 patients treated in a year.
But they were not out of the woods yet – in fact they were a bit lost over desert landscapes navigating by landmarks because there were no radios in the planes. Even though it meant that they could only fly at night in extreme emergencies, nevertheless the pilots put their craft down in the most amazing places and with Alf Traegar’s invention of the pedal radio in 1929 at last the people of the outback started to get the services they needed.
In 1955 the name was changed to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and one of Australia’s most iconic institutions has gone from strength to strength now servicing rural and remote areas from 23 bases scattered around the country.
The story of the RFDS is one that every child should know – from those in the cities where medical services on tap can be taken for granted to those in the Outback where lives depend on it daily. It is a rich and rewarding story of success and Ivanoff has managed to cram so much information into just 32 pages while still keeping it personal and connected to its child audience. Wood’s illustrations emphasise the isolation and enormity of the landscape adding weight to the extent of the issue and the importance of its solution.
As always with this series, there is a timeline at the back that encapsulates the milestones.
Meet… is one of the most significant series of biographies written for young Australian readers as they are introduced to the diverse and critical contributions that have been made by individuals to the development of this nation. including Ned Kelly, Captain Cook, Mary McKillop, Douglas Mawson , The ANZACs , Nancy Bird Walton, Banjo Paterson, Weary Dunlop, Sidney Nolan , Don Bradman and Nellie Melba. In my opinion, John Flynn’s story is one of the most important.