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Distance – It’s the greatest challenge facing those who make their life in the Australian Outback. Isolated from the outside world, how do these ones fare in a medical emergency? The answer is an Australian creation as unique as the Sydney Opera House – the Flying Doctor. But it wasn’t always so.
At the turn of the last century, those in the outback faced real problems if they became seriously ill or injured. There were only two doctors for an area of 695,000 square miles. It soon became obvious that something better was needed. With the progress made in airplane and radio technology a flying doctor service looked like a viable proposition in the early 1920’s. There was, however, still one major hurdle to overcome. How could they get the power to operate two way radios in the isolated outback? In the late 1920’s this obstacle was met with the invention of the Pedal Wireless – a person on bicycle like pedals powering a generator. This made radio transmission possible over a distance of 300 miles.
Eventually the pedal wireless was replaced with more modern equipment, and what is known as the single side-band mode of radio transmission was introduced. Today, more than 2,600 outstation transceivers communicate with these bases regularly.
Flying Doctors became a reality in May, 1928 when the Aerial Medical Service got under way. Utilising a single-engined de Haviland DH-50A bi-plane, a doctor, nurse and stretcher were now able to get to even the remotest areas of the outback. Landing in such places, however, presented unique problems of it’s own. Often the pilot had to come in low and scare off horses, cattle, kangaroos and sheep before touching down. At night, crude home-made flares were used to light up the runway. With unreliable, or non-existent, maps navigation also became a major challenge.
In 1941 the name was changed to the Flying Doctor Service and in 1955 it became the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Today there are 13 bases scattered throughout the Australian Outback. At each base there is always one flying doctor on hand. There is also a pilot constantly available. Nurses are usually available from local hospitals near the bases. The Royal Flying Dr Service treats an average of 90,000 patients per year, with about 10% of them being air lifted to hospital. Any patient in Australia can now receive expert medical care in under two hours.
The Royal Flying Doctor service brings the security of the most advanced medical care to some of the remotest areas of the earth. As such it has no equal in the world.