Joan Larsen: Aloft in the Outback – the Royal Flying Doctors Service

Posted on April 2, 2014


By Joan Larsen


England’s Prince Charles and his Camilla, both smiling brightly, waved as they stepped off the last stair of the plane into what Americans would call “nowhere”. . . but actually is a stop in Australia’s Outback. The sun beat down mercilessly, the wind was blowing up more dust than we see in years, and the temperature already was 104 degrees — and rising rapidly. But this was a very well-deserved celebration and all involved somehow treated it as such. It was joyous to watch.


Thanks to the generosity of donors from the UK, a needed new Royal Flying Doctors Service state-of-the-art plane was being unveiled and named by Prince Charles— a plane that would be saving lives daily, helping those living in the wilds of the country to remain in good health. The “good” this single plane would be able to do would take your breath away. Charles spoke very touchingly . . . and for good reason. I too had found this organization and its charity perhaps the most deserving one I have encountered ever. When Prince Charles married, and before Prince William and Kate’s marriage, the couples suggested that, instead of gifts, donations might be instead made to the Royal Flying Doctors cause. They flooded in.

I have yet to see an equal to RFDS in my more than a few visits to the Outback. Even in writing this, I choke up over actually remembering seeing this Service saving lives on remote stretches of roads. Car accidents can occur for many reasons. Even a kangaroo bolting out of nowhere in front of you here can put you in jeopardy. Those living on remote properties of thousands of acres are no different than we are in their medical needs. Emergencies are a 24 hours a day, 365 days a year service — a flight that reaches the most remote situation in, at most, 2 hours. (I think of that often when I have spent hours sitting in a hospital emergency room!!)


4-FlyingDocs-planeI have captured in photos below only a few of the primitive landing strips in nowhere that are roads – or less than roads – that have to be used on a daily basis somewhere in the Outback by the pilots bringing in sick or dying people to the nearest hospital. But the pictures should give readers a new idea of a landing strip.  A combination of expertise and sheer guts would have to be involved to touch down in some places.



On that plane will be doctors, nurses, a combination of personnel needed to assure the best care along the way. I have met them and heard stories of how they have chosen this hard but incredibly worthwhile life. I have wiped my eyes as they told their stories. There is a love for the work they do that we seldom see in the far different world many of us live in. There is a degree of dedication that we see few professionals still exhibiting in our world today. Perhaps a single short YouTube of a nurse telling us why she is giving of her life out in this remote area will be enough. Just know that every professional I met was as committed as this wonderful woman was.

6-med-chestFor those living in the vast Outback, the Royal Flying Doctor Service has offerings that cannot be beat. Every day, a plane visits one remote tiny town and sets up practice for a day for all in need, returning several weeks later. Private homestead visits can be arranged as well!! And each homestead has a free medical box filled with a complete assortment of immediate things needed for emergencies, including prescription and non-prescription medications that will be replenished if they become out of date. Any hour of day or night a doctor is on duty to talk the caregiver through the immediate needs of the patient until help can arrive.

Pre-natal, post-natal care are part of the Flying Doctors expertise. Dentists? Of course. In fact, there is concern that the Aboriginals (the first people who lived on the continent and remain there) in the most remote locations are in need of dental appointments early in life. Dentists are now flown in to see that the newest generation no longer will be in the dire straits that many adults without care are left with.

Australia_MapWe think of Australia as large . . . and it is. But its entire population is only a few million more than Metropolitan New York City. Their cities are beautiful but few. They range along the coast line. The Royal Flying Doctor Service exists to provide a high quality and comprehensive health care service to all people who live, work and travel in the isolated Australian Outback — think 80% of the country.

At last count, the Royal Doctor Flying Service had a fleet of 61 fully instrumented aircraft with the very latest in navigation technology. If you haven’t yet traveled the Outback, let me tell you that this is “rugged” terrain and they need this technology. And there are 21 bases all across Australia, with doctors, nurses, and all qualified personnel responsible for the care of 270,000 patients – an incredible number.

10-crocThe number of lifesaving stories involved are often from far different circumstances than we may ever hear about in our own worlds: gored by two bulls at once, chomped on by an 18 foot saltwater croc, bitten by an innocuous but deadly brown snake – things that only could happen in Australia’s Outback. The care in each case was what most of us would consider the most extraordinary care that one person could receive.

11-beachWestern Australia is an adventurous traveller’s paradise. Portions of its landscape are truly incredible I have found, but there are portions of its terrain that have seemed the epitome of “empty” to me. But, of course, mines and homesteads are scattered to the four winds, hidden from view.

Fortunately, I have found this wonderful short closing video of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Western Australia that will give you a close-up-and-personal look at being aloft with what I believe to be the most marvelous service in our medical world today . . . in a little nutshell.



JoanAvatarWriter Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth.  But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again.  She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”