Thursday, 20 July 1995

AUC 1995 - Royal Flying Doctor Museum (Cloncurry Qld)

Cloncurry - Mount Isa (Qld)
(Barkly Highway) 118 k m s

Another windy morning and this time not much hint in the breeze of warm air. As we had prepared for our overnight stop in the "hit and run" mode of pre-packing our clothes the day before, our shorts and T shirts were a paltry match for the lazy wind which was blowing from somewhere colder.

This led to our later than usual start and a well earned sleep in for the crew. It was nice to lay there and reflect on what we had seen to date and enjoy the camaraderie which was becoming increasingly evident between us. This was an aspect Sue and I had been concerned about, as toward the end of our Victorian we had become testy with each other and that had only been four weeks.

By clever use of the tent against the prevailing wind, we were able to eat and prepare for the day in relative comfort and we performed an exemplary pack up. The warning Gog and Pa had given about packing the fly of the dome tent in wind proved to be very valuable, but the solid combination of the crew proved to be too much for the errant fly and its partner in irritation, the stiff southerly.

Before leaving Cloncurry, we visited John Flynn Place and the home of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Twice before foiled in our attempt to see the RFD Museum and Art Gallery, we were determined not to be likewise unsuccessful.

The museum is housed in a building with interesting architecture, which has overtones of the exterior style of the Stockman's Hall of Fame. The similarity to galvanised water tanks is again apparent, but the interior shows a simpler and essentially more effective design. The building operates on four levels, the street level entry being the second. Circular ramps ascend and descend to other levels and displays.

The first (basement) and second levels show the development and history of the RFDS and the main protagonists in these, whilst the upper levels house the Fred Mackay Art Gallery.

The staff are extremely friendly and the displays have been thoughtfully assembled, with just the right mix of information and concrete materials, to keep all ages and interest levels engaged in what was on show. The story of the development of the RFDS is a fascinating one and stands as a record of fierce determination and the clever use of "people skills".

John Flynn was a Presbyterian Minister who had a great love for cartography and the outback. Born on the Victorian gold fields at Mollagul, he started his adult life as a teacher in the state school system of his mother state. However, after ten years of teaching and a family background in Anglicanism and Catholicism, he joined the Presbyterian Church in 1908 and enrolled in theological college.

After moving to Adelaide in 1911 and completing his studies he was appointed to the Smith of Dunesk 10 December/January 1994/95 Mission at Beltana and given the job of surveying the needs of inland people. Here started a dedication to the outback which was to have an enormous impact on future generations who grew up in the far flung reaches of the Australian continent. His report led to the establishment of The Australian Inland Mission (AIM) with himself as superintendent - a position he was to hold for 39 years. City dwellers, who had previously been entertained by the romantic
tales of Banjo Paterson and the bitterness of the writing of Henry Lawson, began to see the conditions in stark reality through the pages of "The Inlander", the magazine he established. Flynn's outstanding use of maps, photographs and diagrams, allied with his moving articles, gave those in the city a strong impression of the difficulties of living and working in tlie outback.

The death of a stockman in the Kimberleys in 1917 - the so called "Halls Creek Incident" - had a significant affect on Flynn and galvanised his desire for the establishment of medical services to the outback.

In 1921, Flynn consulted with Hudson Fysh, the co-founder of the then fledgling QANTAS, about tlie type of aircraft which would be needed to provide a medical service. The concept of "flying doctors" caught the imagination of Fysh and he was to prove a staunch supporter, providing the aircraft and pilots for the service, at reasonable rates.

However, communication remained a huge problem to be overcome. To be effective, a radio network had to be established, that was both portable and extensive and this had seemed insurmountable given the distances and the lack of power available. In 1926, Flynn was introduced to Alfred Traeger, an Adelaide ham radio operator and electrician. He laid the problems at the feet of Traeger and again, Flynn's judgment of men who loved a challenge, proved correct. Working inordinately long hours in his Adelaide workshop, Traeger determined the requirements needed to power the portable transmitters so essential for the medical service. His genius was to invent the "pedal wireless", using existing power generators and encasing a flywheel and gears so the operators could easily maintain the required 20 watts at 300 volts without great exertion.

The cost of the unit - 50 pounds - meant Flynn's dreams could be realised.

Rev John Flynn
Traeger traveled with Flynn to the outback, establishing the radio network and working out numerous other technical problems along the way. The original sets used Morse code as the vehicle for messages and in 1932, Traeger converted typewriter keyboards as an automatic Morse sending unit, for those with no knowledge of the complicated series of dots and dashes which was the language of the airwaves.

In the first few months of 1928, the first Aerial Medical Sewice base was established at Cloncurry. On May 17th, 1928, pilot Arthur Affleck and Dr St Vincent Welch flew QANTAS DH50A "Victory" into history, in responding to a call for medical assistance at Julia Creek.

Following the conversion to spoken radio messages in 1934 and the development of home medical chests for each property connected to the service, the Flying Doctors grew and grew. The home medical chests contained medical supplies which were numbered and doctors could conduct voice
consultations and then prescribe the required treatment by way of suggesting the number of the medicine or bandage which had to be applied.

One funny story - among many - came from this practice. It was the tale of the property owner who radioed in that his wife was unwell. He was advised to give her a certain number No 9 tablets. The following day, the RFDS doctor followed up his consultation, radioing the property and inquiring as to the well being of the wife. "We had run out of the No 9's doc," he was told, "so 1 gave her a No 4 and a No 5 and now she's right as rain!"

Flynn continued his work and the service grew to be known as the Flying Doctor Sewice and the royal title was bestowed upon it in 1956, following a visit to the Cloncurry base by Queen Elizabeth II the previous year.

Flynn died in Sydney on 5th May, 1951. His ashes and a small party of mourners were flown to Cloncurry, where a memorial service was held in the small church adjacent to the lean-to which had been the first Flying Doctor Base. The party then flew on to Alice Springs, where his ashes were entombed at the foot of Mt Gillen.

Apart from providing the Flying Doctor Service, the radio network also provided the base for the
establishment of the School of the Air. The impression one gets of John Flynn is of a man of great passion and love who was able to instill great faith in those who worked with him. He seemed to identify talented people who loved a challenge and then inspire them to great heights by his own personal achievements and energy.

This museum was outstanding and Sue and 1 were greatly moved by the story it told.

Leaving Cloncurry behind in mid-morning, we ventured forward to Mount Isa and a reuniting with Gog and Pa. The country side was vastly different from the Gulf Savannah we had observed by the road travelling to and from Kurumba. Here we saw, for the first time, the landscape we had expected before embarking on our trip. Here were the colours of Namatjtra and the landscapes which occupied our mind's eye. The orange and red hills with jagged rocky outcrops and low scrubby trees, often profiled against the brilliant blue of the sky. About the undulating hills were Brolga, Black Kites and Wedge-Tailed Eagles, with the evidence of marsupials lying beside the road providing a clear verdict on the carnage of the previous night.

A new threat to vehicular passage was identified regularly by roadside signage - cattle. The sign simply showed the profile of a car being struck by a large beast!

On approaching Mount Isa, one can't be mistaken about it being a mining town. The smelter stacks and piles of ore of Mount Isa Mines, dominate the skyline and the closer one gets to the city the more they overpower it. The belching smoke and man made mountains of ore cast a giant philosophical shadow over the inhabitants and our initial impression of the people was one of an adversarial nature to all interactions. Whether this is part of their fierce independence or simply born from a worker versus boss mentality, it was too early to tell. However, the previous friendly nature of inhabitants in other towns and villages that needed the tourist dollar, was not immediately forth coming.

We spent the afternoon in earnest conversation with Gog and Pa, catching up on events since our itineraries took us in different paths. Dinner was taken by us all, in the camp kitchen at the caravan park and the evening gathering was in their van, "La Motley On Wheels", reviewing our video footage from Kurumba and Cloncurry. Despite repeatedly beating cranium against the low ceilings and fixtures of their caravan - reminiscent of my experience in Art's "home de wheels" - we had a great evening and the perfect preparation for our impending complete independence of each other.

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