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Reverend John Flynn

Reverend Doctor John Flynn

15 January, 1842 - 8 August 1909

Reverend John Flynn
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Alice Springs RFDS
John Flynn Historic Reserve

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Australians - Great and Famous, and the Not So Famous
» 25 November, 1880 - 5 May 1951 «
Flynn's vision was to provide a 'mantle of safety' for the people of the bush

John Flynn was a Presbyterian Minister of national renown. His role in establishing the Australian Inland Mission and the Aerial Medical Service (which changed its name to the Flying Doctor Service in 1942 and then the Royal Flying Doctor Service in 1955), in outback Australia, has made him one of our beloved and revered Australian.

Ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church at the age of 31, John Flynn was sent in 1912 by the Church to investigate the needs of men and women living in remote areas of inland Australia.

Travelling the vast distances across inland Australia, Flynn found that there was a complete lack of the services that those living in the city took for granted. Communication was slow and difficult. Illness and injury often proved fatal.

Flynn's report challenged the Church to improve the life of outback people. The Australian Inland Mission (AIM) was established in 1912, with Flynn as its first superintendent. With tremendous energy and enthusiasm Flynn set about implementing his dream of 'a mantle of safety' that would bring medical, social and religious services to isolated outback communities. The Australian Inland Mission quickly established a network of 'patrol pardres' who travelled their vast parishes by horse or camel. It also began to provide nursing hostels, staffed by a group of dedicated nurses, in remote locations such as Halls Creek (1918), Birdsville (1923) and Alice Springs (1926).

It was in 1917 that Flynn received an inspirational letter from Lieutenant Clifford Peel, a Victorian medical student with an interest in aviation. The young airman and war hero suggested the use of aviation to bring medical help to the Outback. Shot down in France, he died at just 24 years of age and never knew that his letter became a blueprint for the creation of the Flying Doctor Service.

It was in 1928 in Cloncurry, western Queensland, that the Australian Inland Mission set up the first flying doctor base. Its success prompted the establishment of aerial medical services in other regions. However, Flynn knew that the Australian Inland Mission lacked the resources to fully develop the service, so he persuaded the Church to hand it over to a government subsidised citizens’ organisation. So was born the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), realising Flynn's dream of 'a mantle of safety over the outback' was finally realised.

John Flynn died in Sydney on 5th May, 1951. Whilst his funeral was conducted in Sydney, his ashes were flow to Alice Springs, in accordance with his wishes, to be buried on or near Mount Gillen. On 23rd May, 1951 over 500 people from all walks of life gathered to pay their respects to John Flynn, and the urn containing his ashes were initially buried at a provisional gravesite at the foot of Mt Gillen. This was a temporary resting place until the grave proper was built.

In August 1953, people gathered at what is now the John Flynn’s Grave Historical Reserve to pay a final tribute to the Reverend John Flynn. The urn containing his ashes was placed into the monument and cranes lifted a boulder onto the monument. The rock that was select to mark the grave of the Reverend John Flynn, had removed from the Devil's Marbles (Karlukarlu) 400 km north of Alice Springs and placed on the grave as a mark of honour.

On 14th November 1976 the ashes of Mrs Jean Flynn (the wife of John Flynn) were also laid to rest within the same grave. Two stainless steel caskets were fabricated to contain the ashes of both John and Jean Flynn and these were embedded permanently, along with records, within the base of the grave.

The removal of the rock from the Devil's Marbles some 22 years later raised some controversy, the Devil’s Marbles area being a sacred place belonging to the Warumungu and Kaytetye people.

The Central Land Council representing Arrernte, Warumungu and Kaytetye traditional owners together with the Uniting Church, Frontier Services and the Reverend Fred McKay, Community Aid Abroad (Oxfam Australia), The Royal Flying Doctor Service, the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory and the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority united in their support to the exchange the sacred rock at Flynn’s Grave with another.

On Saturday 4th September 1999, Aboriginal custodians, non-government organisations and church groups were among the many groups which gathered together for another moment in history at the John Flynn’s Grave Historical Reserve.

Following a service at the grave, the original rock was then taken back to it’s sacred place in the Devil’s Marbles, where it was welcomed home by its custodians. The rock to replace the original stone was selected by the Arrernte people in a significant gesture of reconciliation. It came from a registered sacred site, a place of great importance, in the Alice Springs area. Aboriginal significance is not limited to the grave rock itself, but also includes the sacred site at the Historical Reserve and sites in the surrounding area.

Today, the work of John Flynn is continued by the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the Uniting Church Frontier Services and other institutions which provide care for people in isolated outback Australia.

Until the 1960s, the Service rarely owned their own aircraft. Instead they used contractors to provide aircraft, pilots and servicing. They did however, progressively purchase their own aircraft and employ their own pilots and engineers.

Today, the RFDS own a fleet of 53 fully instrumented aircraft with the very latest in navigation technology. Operating 21 bases across Australia, their pilots fly the equivalent of 25 round trips to the moon annually, and their doctors and flight nurses are responsible for the care of nearly 270,000 patients! The Royal Flying Doctor Service has come a long way from that first flight in 1928 which saw the Flying Doctor airborne at last.

Source: see links below.

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Reverend John Flynn - Other links

National Library of Australia: Trove - Reverend John Flynn / Teresa Llewellyn-Evans
Royal Flying Doctor Service: Our History and The John Flynn Story
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