A much-loved Aussie comedic ballad begins with the words –
‘There’s an old Australian stockman lying, dying…’
and continues with instructions of what to do with his wallabies, cockatoos and koalas, with emphasis on his kangaroos.
A deadly serious true story began in outback West Australia in 1917 when a Kimberley stockman, Jimmy Darcy, suffered massive internal injuries when his trusty horse fell on him during a cattle stampede.
At the nearest settlement, 80 km away, the Halls Creek postmaster was forced to perform surgery, armed with a pen-knife, some morphine and instructions via Morse code from a Doctor Holland, 2,800km away in the capital city of Perth. The only other option was certain death without surgical intervention.
The crude operation took hours of cutting and stitching to repair Darcy’s ruptured bladder, following the doctor’s translated Morse messages. The 29-year old miraculously survived, but in a dangerously weakened condition. To unbalance the odds against his likelihood of survival even further, he now had a malaria attack to contend with.
Meanwhile, Dr. Holland began his gruelling journey from Perth. Following an agonisingly slow voyage on a cattle ship, the next leg forced him to spend almost a week in a Model T Ford, that was mainly held together by leather straps. Aborigines pushing his car across river beds was amongst all manner of setbacks plaguing his trip; like numerous punctures, radiator leaks and engine stutters, to name a few.
Despite the desperation measure of having to use the rubber tubing from the good doctor’s stethoscope to syphon the last petrol from a can at one miserable stage, the gutsy little car finally gave up — still 40 km. distant from Darcy. Dr. Holland was forced to walk, then gratefully ride on horseback through the night, to finally arrive at his destination.
Tragically, Jimmy Darcy had died only a few hours earlier.
Another stalwart of the outback — the man who would forever change the face of medicine in the Australian Bush, the Christian’s Christian, the Reverend John Flynn — was deeply affected by the stockman’s cruel end; yet another victim had succumbed to the tyranny of travelling this vast country. Flynn determined he would find a way to ‘provide a mantle of safety’ for the people of the outback.
He embraced the idea (conceived by another unlikely hero) of delivering medical assistance swiftly by air, and although it would take a decade to come to fruition, in 1927 an aerial medical service was given a ‘try-out’, and in 1928 the first flying ambulance took to the air under instruction from a pedal-powered wireless. The development of this phenomenal facility is partially thanks to Governmental support, but heart-warmingly heavily supported by the charitable donations and hard work of thousands of volunteers, to keep the doctor flying.
Today, in this deeply troubled year of 2020, one bright and shining light is the life-giving and sustaining support provided by the now famous Royal Flying Doctor Service with its fleet of 77 aircraft, including two new PILATUS PC-24 jets that not only halve flying time and travel longer distances than ever, but also have the unbelievable capability of using unsealed runways as short as 800m. These two are known as the emergency wards of our skies. The fleet travels across the area of 7.69 million square kilometres of Australia.
Down here, in our SE corner of South Australia, an RFDS plane lands at one of our airports to speedily transport the sick and injured to and from our capital city of Adelaide (a mere 5 hours by road away), twice a day, every day of the year. It’s the worst, yet best feeling to see that distinctive red-bellied RFDS plane fly overhead. SO sad the need happens, but SO thankful this selfless service exists. There are few in our area who don’t have a story of themselves, family or friends having received life-saving support and deliverance from our beloved flying doctor.
On a daily basis, over 1,000 people nationally are provided with not only emergency services, but also primary health care in such diverse areas as visiting immunisation clinics and GP, nursing and allied health diagnosis and care — from dental services to depression counselling; all stages of maternity care; the list goes on… and on… And the remoteness of countless rural areas is lessened, along with paralysing fear, as relief and joy accompany that first glimpse of the dot in the sky. Way before the quietest hum can be heard, there’s a special comfort… the flying doctor is on his way.
OMP Admin Note: Christine Larsen is a writer, farmer, wife, mother, and grandmother from Australia. She has never been homeless or had significant cancer – yet – but has had exposure to both – creating a great sense of empathy and desire to help in any way she can. She is humbled by the opportunity to give one of her stories to the sincerely worthwhile causes of Cancer research and Homelessness.
To find out more about Christine and her work:
Christine Larsen, Author
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