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History of the Royal Flying Doctor Service

The Royal Flying Doctor Service, then known as the Aerial Medical Service, under the control of the Australian Inland Mission, became operational on May 15, 1928. The first flying doctor of the service was Dr K St Vincent Welch and the first flying doctor pilot, Arthur Affleck of Qantas. Qantas, today a major international airline, was in those days still a small bush airline, known as Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service (Q.A.N.T.A.S).

The first aircraft used by the newly established Service was a de Havilland DH-50A; a single engine, timber and fabric biplane, which cruised at 80 miles an hour and could carry, apart from the pilot, a doctor, a nurse or sitting patient and stretcher.
The Service’s first and for some years only base, was at Cloncurry in Western Queensland. The first year’s service was regarded as experimental, but that experiment succeeded and almost miraculously survived the Great Depression of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.

However, the growth of the service made heavy demands on available funds and repeatedly John Flynn and his associates had to launch public appeals for donations upon which the service – still today – so heavily relies.

While some Government financial aid was made available on occasions in the early days of the service, Government subsides (both Federal and State) on a regular basis became an established practice later on. Even today the service continues to rely heavily on money from trusts, donations and public appeals.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service, Central Operations was formed in 1936 and operated from 1937 as the South Australian Section out of Broken Hill jointly operated with the New South Wales Section. In 1939, the South Australian Section opened an independently owned and operated base in Alice Springs.

In the early 1970s, the Tourist Facility was built and opened in order to tell the history of John Flynn, the RFDS and the experience of the early outback pioneers to visitors. This structure was located behind the original communications and the residential building, and in the late 1990s, the residential building became a café, souvenir shop and offices. The vision for the original Tourist Facility was to raise awareness and educate the public regarding the services of the RFDS and to raise much needed funds to maintain the important aero-medical service in the remote regions of outback Australia.

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