J.R. Flynn started a service that's unique in the world

Today at Darlington memories are crowding in on a man for a friend who died a year ago.  With the Flying Doctor Service Federal meeting being held in Perth for the first time on Monday and Tuesday, many reminders of the Service's pioneer days come back to Mr. W. E. Coxon, its special radio officer and one of the best known of WA's wireless experts.

And the friend he mourns is Dr. John Flynn, OBE, DD, pioneer of a medical service unique in the world. (photograph on right)


Yesterday Mr. Coxon, who has been with the service since its inception in this State, told the story of his friend John Flynn and of the origin and development of the Flying Doctor service in Australia and in this State.

Operating today from 8 bases with a 400 mile radius of medical and communication services in outback areas of the continent, the service is the materialisation of the vision of a humble man with a simple and profound love of humanity.  In Western Australia alone today 4 bases at Wyndham, Port Hedland, Kalgoorlie and Meekathara are in full operation.


In his workshop at Darlington, Mr. Coxon has in preparation the equipment which will serve the new transmitting station planned for Carnarvon.  Other bases are scattered throughout the continent at Alice Springs, Cloncurry, Charleville and Broken Hill. 

One is planned for Ceduna, SA.  A little over 20 years ago John Flynn's plan to co-ordinate scattered life in the desert outback was ridiculed by many as an impossible dream.  Flynn, then a nomadic young padre for the Australian Inland Mission, had been travelling thousands of miles by camel, horse-back, buggy and on foot, dispensing spiritual help in the vast desert loneliness.

Promoted to Supt. of AIM, he decided that as well as spiritual assistance, outback people needed many other forms of help.  Chief need he considered was a widespread pattern of medical service. He began by establishing Bush Nursing hospitals, many of which have been taken over by the Govt. as general hospitals, but soon he realised that the factors of communication and transport presented what seemed like an insurmountable difficulty.


At a time when both flying and radio were still in their infancy, John Flynn conceived the idea of an aerial medical service controlled by a radio base.  In 1928 the Australian Aerial Medical Service began humbly at Cloncurry, Queensland. 

That day Flynn arranged for a chartered plane to carry a stretcher.  Shortly afterwards Flynn went to visit a young Adelaide engineer who had designed a pedal wireless set.  He was Alfred Traeger, who assisted Flynn to establish a system of receivers and transmitters on outback station.


Today more than 250 wireless posts, most of them with landing grounds, have been established throughout Australia.

Through them 200,000 flying miles are organised yearly in addition to the thousands of medical consultations given over the air. On the larger stations portable transmitters are carried for cattle hands for hourly communication with the station.

The homestead in turn communicates with the Flying Doctor base.  FDS also operates a telegram service in conjunction with the P.M.G. Dept. This is an important source of revenue. Western Australian section of the Flying Doctor Service (it acquired this name only after constant usage by the public) was begun at Port Hedland in1935.


The first plane was a Fox Moth, the "John Flynn" and the first flying doctor was Dr. Alan Vickers. The plane is still in operation today.  


Mr Coxon telling the story of John Flynn and the Flying Doctor Service at his hills home at Darlington this week, recalled early difficulties of finance and technique.  Mr Coxon, a pioneer of radio in this State, was the Service's original radio technician. He is still employed by the service and handles all its technical problems. Equipment for the WA section is made in his Darlington workshop.


History of the service in this State may be found in the headlines of its newspapers.  They tell many a dramatic story of the achievement and courage of the gallant people who maintain it.


Frequent accounts of hazardous missions in all weathers paint a dramatic picture of humane service which is the best tribute one could visualise to the kindly padre whose ashes were, at his own wish, spread at the foot of Mt. Gillen this time last year.  In a unique funeral ceremony held at the foot of the Mount. Rev Kingsley Partridge quoting from a text said:


 'There was a man sent from God whose name was John . . ."

“Truly, John Flynn was God's gift to the lonely places within our great island continent. He came from God equipped with a spirit of vision, a capacity to dream and a very practical nature. He passes, leaving his and our land, the richer happier and safer for his having lived.  His work abides, his memory is forever eloquent, for across the lonely places of the land he planted kindness and from the hearts of those who call, those places home he gathered love."


And a gathering, including representatives of the Army, paused in silence.  Then a tiny plane came out of the West, circled the mountain and dropped a wreath which fell on the mountain near the ashes of John Flynn.  It was a Flying Doctor plane and when its mission of mourning was completed those gathered at the foot of the mount to mourn John Flynn watched it disappear again back into the West.  In Perth tomorrow, the Anniversary of John Flynn's death the Flying Doctor Service will hold its annual conference.  This will be the first time the conference has been held in Perth.  Representatives of every State excepting Tasmania will be present.  Health Minister Dame Florence Cardell Oliver will attend the official opening.

Rev. John Flynn’s grave at the foot of Mt. Gillan, out of Alice Springs.

© Darlington History Group       Ver 2.1.3     Dec 2019