John Flynn (1880-1951)



The Rev. John Flynn was born at Moliagul, Victoria, on 25 November 1880. He completed his training for the Presbyterian ministry, and in 1911 was appointed to the Smith of Dunesk Mission in the North Flinders Ranges of South Australia.


In 1912 Flynn was commissioned to undertake a survey of the needs of both the Aboriginal people and white settlers of the Northern Territory. His detailed reports resulted in the creation by the Presbyterian Church of its Australian Inland Mission (AIM), of which Flynn was appointed Superintendent. The Mission, which commenced operation with one nursing hostel, a nursing sister and a padre, had by 1926, under Flynn's leadership, become a network of ten strategically placed nursing hostels operating closely with patrol padres.


Keenly aware of the isolation of the people of inland Australia, between 1913 and 1927 Flynn used his magazine The Inlander as a vehicle to elicit financial support, to publicise the Mission's achievements and to make known his plans for the future. He believed that a "mantle of safety" could be created for the isolated communities of Northern Australia only with the establishment of an aerial medical service and the introduction of radio communications.


Despite many setbacks and considerable opposition, Flynn's vision became a reality. On 17 May 1928, Dr K St Vincent Welch with pilot Arthur Affleck at the controls of Victory, a De Havilland 50 aircraft leased from QANTAS, flew from Cloncurry to Julia Creek to answer the first call received by the AIM Aerial Medical Service. When in 1929, the first pedal wireless built by Alfred Traeger was installed in Queensland, Flynn's quest for the more adequate protection of isolated communities was fulfilled.


Flynn realised, however, that to operate successfully the fledgling aerial medical service must become part of a national operation with access to greater resources. To this end, he maintained constant contact with Members of Parliament and argued persuasively to gain the approval of the Presbyterian Church for a wider co-operative venture. In 1934, the Australian Aerial Medical Service, as it was then known, was established. (The name was changed in 1942 to Flying Doctor Service of Australia, and the designation "Royal" was added in 1955.)


In 1932 at the age of 51, Flynn married Jean Blanch Baird, Secretary of the Australian Inland Mission. He was appointed OBE in June 1933. In 1939, he was elected Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia for a three-year term. A kind and humble man, with a dry sense of humour and the ability to get along with people, Flynn enhanced the quality of life in distant communities by reducing isolation and loneliness.


Flynn's vision finally saw the establishment of 13 flying doctor bases around Australia, which continue to spread "a mantle of safety" across 6.9 million square kilometres, or 80% of the Australian continent. The Royal Flying Doctor Service remains the largest and most comprehensive aeromedical emergency and health care service in the world.


Flynn died of cancer in Sydney on 5 May 1951 and his ashes were buried at the foot of Mt Gillen, Alice Springs. In 1956, the John Flynn Memorial Church was opened in Alice Springs as a tribute to a great Australian whose compassion, zeal and vision transformed the lives of the inhabitants of inland Australia.