May this year marks 90 years that the Royal Flying Doctor Service has been operating in Australia. This is a group that I donate to every year because of the uniqueness of what they do and how necessary it is in our vast country.
The R.F.D.S came about thanks to the Reverend John Flynn, founder and leader of the Australian Inland Mission. Flynn saw the need for people of the outback to have an aerial medical service and after many years of campaigning, saw his vision become a reality in 1928 when a leased bi-plane from Qantas, became the first flight. Today with around 8 million people living in rural and remote parts of Australia, plus those who holiday by road every day, it’s easy to see why this is such a need.
Now the service has 69 planes as well as ground support, and transports more than 36,000 patients a year. Some are life saving situations and others are to provide transport for specialist medical appointments. There are 24 air bases across Australia but the biggest surprise for many travellers in Australia are the highway and road landing strips which can be found in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia.
When you’re travelling by road in Australia, the first time you see the road signs notifying you of a R.F.D.S Emergency Landing Strip you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a joke but soon enough the markings on the road show that it is indeed a landing strip if needed.
Don’t be too alarmed though if highway landings are necessary, police organize closure of the road while the plane lands and taxis off to a widened side of the road, enabling the highway to be reopened. When it’s time to take off the road is closed to traffic again until the situation is over.
Although the road landing strips don’t need to be used a lot it’s a comforting thought that help can be at hand quicker than by road if needed. A sad fact is that up to a quarter of the emergency medical evacuations that the R.F.D.S do every year are because of travellers getting into trouble in the outback. This is a good reminder to travel to conditions, watch for roaming animals and rest often. There are many, many kilometres of straight, some might say boring roads out there, so keeping your wits about you and concentrating is so important.
Personally on a long drive I think there’s nothing better than to pull off the road, stretch the legs, take some photos, and enjoy the surroundings to give yourself a break.
I think everyone that loves road travel in Australia should put Alice Springs on their must do list and when there, go to Reverend Flynn’s memorial. This memorial is the resting place for his ashes which is set in a reserve 15 kilometres west of Alice Springs on Larapinta Drive. The backdrop of the spectacular MacDonnell Ranges gives the memorial a fitting sense of the country he loved.
When in Alice Springs you can visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service Tourist Facility, or you can purchase items anytime from the R.F.D.S online shops and also make a donation. So with this being a landmark anniversary year, why not ‘flick them a Flynn’! (For those not in Australia, Flynn is also on the Aussie $20 note).