The Royal Flying Doctor Service

A crackle of static from the transceiver and, somehow, old Vern at the base station always knew whose crackle it was, would transmit a telegram or receive one, reading it back to make sure he had it right, sometimes quite private stuff.

monsoon rain
falling straight down
mating cane toads

family card games
at the round table
100% humidity

Eight in the mornings was the weather. People would call in with their rainfall and we would know what to expect at our end of the river.

Once a day I sat at the desk and pushed the little button for School of the Air: a chaos of static and small voices, as eager as puppies, a teacher miles away asking and answering questions, speaking to one child at a time because if two people spoke at once all you heard was garble.

bare feet swing
under a vinyl chair
distance education

Some times emergencies would interrupt School of the Air. Conversations with the Flying Doctor that, of course, everyone would listen to. If needed, an ambulance plane would land on your local road or your bush airstrip if it was safe.

a dust trail
the aircraft
dips its wings

Jimmy Jackson went that way. We heard his mother explain,
‘Timmy’s cut Jimmy’s finger orf.’
With an axe apparently. THe doctor told her to wash the finger in milk, if it was dirty, 
and to put it back on Jimmy’s hand.
‘Will powdered milk do?’ she asked.
I don’t know what happened to Timmy, but Jimmy lost his finger.

And when I was grown and far away, I sent this: BABY GIRL HANA BORN MIDDAY SIX THREE STOP ALL WELL STOP my message across all those lonely miles, travelling on air, down the receiver aerial and out of a transceiver with its little glowing lights.
‘Received that Vern, over,’ said my mother.

red dust dusk
a country woman waits
to share good news


Afterword: This is from my childhood in outback North Queensland. here is the RFDS’s blog. This one further west than we were, but you’ll get the idea. Ours was based in Charters Towers. They run a fantastic service.

17 thoughts on “The Royal Flying Doctor Service

  1. Lovely words, this is a life largely unknown to those of us in suburbia. Now that I’m living in country district of Mallala, I come a little closer to understanding what it may have been like. Really though, Mallala is just a far north suburb of Adelaide in comparison…

    1. Mallala is still a decent distance, though distances are getting shorter, aren’t they Carolyn.
      These days most school of the air kids have satellite communication with their teachers. The families still rely on the radio though, especially between neighbours, their neighbours being miles away. It was an amazing place to grow up.

  2. What a wealth of fascinating images and interesting experiences. Red dust is as alien to me as Mars, coming from the Pennine’s, where the mountains carry you in their laps and Wellies are the the only means of transport….

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