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
pay their respects to John Flynn, and the urn containing his ashes were
initially buried at a provisional
the foot of Mt Gillen. This was a temporary resting place until the grave proper
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
ashes was placed into the monument and cranes lifted a boulder onto the
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
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
contain the ashes of both John and Jean Flynn and these were embedded
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
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
Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority united in their support to the exchange
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
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
great importance, in the Alice Springs area.
Aboriginal significance is not limited to the grave rock itself, but also
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
the Uniting Church Frontier Services and other institutions which provide care
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