Posted by: jkirkby8712 | November 29, 2011

Monday, 28th November 2011 – the story of John Flynn.

It was today that I finished reading the book published in 1932 –  Ion L Idriess’s ‘Flynn of the Inland’ –  to which I have referred in recent blogs. A book which came down from my father’s collection, and which I’m assuming he purchased prior to WWII when he was in his late teens. Rather a fascinating history in the form of a kind of novel of the man who began his work on a camel, and eventually was responsible for the creation of the Australian Inland Mission, the predecessor of today’s ‘frontier Services’.  From the Author’s note, we read that:-    ‘I have written Flynn of the Inland in order that the people of Australia may learn something of the work which has been and is being done for isolated and suffering humanity by the Australian Inland Mission, its Padres and Doctors, its Sisters and voluntary workers, and by one Padre in particular.  This book is not a history; but it is a true story. The omission of the names of many good friends will, I hope, not be misunderstood. If it had been a history of the A.I.M., they would certainly have received the recognition to which their services entitle them  A wanderer myself for many years in the Inland, I have seen the work of the A.I.M. there. This book is my humble tribute of admiration for John Flynn and his fellow workers. If any work bears the hall-mark of the Master who inspired it, theirs does. My thanks are due to the officers of the A.I.M. for allowing me access to official records, and the Inlander; and to the Patrol Padres and Nurses for help and inspiration in my work It would be ungrateful not to mention specially Miss Baird, the Secretary of the A.I.M., whose patience I fear I have more than once tried, but whose smiling face and unfailing courtesy gave no sign of the fact’.

In one quotation stated in the book,   ‘The church has never come out this way before… if you combed the country for two hundred miles around you would not muster up a congregation.” “We do not expect them to come… Our work is to go to them. Here I am.”   – John Flynn, quoted by Ion Idriess, in Flynn of the Inland
Meanwhile, the author himself, Ion Llewellyn Idriess, better known as Jack “in the bush,” was an Australian author. His writing drew on his own experiences as a prospector, bushman and soldier. He travelled extensively around Australia, including the Torres Strait Islands, and fought in World War I. Idriess was born at Waverley, NSW, in 1889. He authored more than 50 books over 43 years from 1927 to 1969 – an average of one book every 10 months. These could be loosely described as “Australiana”, but that one word can cover a multitude of topics. He wrote books of travel, recollection, biography, history, anthropology and futurology. None of these were fiction, but all were written in a narrative, “story” style. Many of the historical works interwove documented and oral history with cultural research and imagination. He also wrote political pamphlets and text books for miners and soldiers. Idriess wrote his last book at the age of 79. Challenge of the North is an amazing collection of ideas for developing the north of Australia – a tour around the coast north above the Tropic of Capricorn. In the poignant Foreword to this book, Jack passes on the baton – To the Younger Generation of Australians:

“This may be my last book (though I’ll keep going while I have a kick left in me) and I have written it above all for the younger generation of Australians … there are unlimited possibilities and untold rewards and satisfactions for those who devote their brains and skills to Australia’s development.   Our young people must become continent-minded fast; for there is plenty of high adventure awaiting them – adventure as fascinating as that being found by the wonder men who set the astronauts on voyages of discovery into space. For we are opening up the Last Continent and our vision shows breathless possibilities…The next hundred years beckon with wonders to be discovered … You, the younger generation, and your sons and your daughters, must adventure into new fields … Good health and questing minds to you”.

What I found of particular interest when reading this book about John Flynn, was the little collection of old newspaper clippings which were either pasted into the book, or inserted between the pages. One of these was a report [date unknown] of a Pleasant Sunday Afternoon church service, where the quest speaker was Dr Allen Vickers, for many years, the Chief Medical Officer of the Australian Aerial Medical Service – ‘He gave a brief history of the establishment of the air service, by Flynn of the Inland, and pointed out what a boon it had been to the lonely settlers in those vast spaces up north.’  Of course Flynn  not only established the mission through his years of toil and encouraged, but was also, through his persistence, a chief motivating factor in the creation and widespread establishment of a network of wireless services, and the eventual air service establishment.

One of those newspaper cuttings appeared in the Herald, dated May 7, 1951, a report of Flynn’s death, and to a large degree, that report provides a good summary of Flynn’s life and achievements, and I’m going to reprint it in this contribution.

“Flynn, the man who beat the great Australian loneliness, is dead. All through the inland today, people will be remembering what he did for them. The Rev. Dr John Flynn, who would have been 71 this year, was a persistent man. When he got his teeth into an idea, he never stopped working on it, talking about it, until he got something done about it. No job was too big to be tackled.  That was how he came to give a lead, not only to Australia, but to the world, on how to break down the terrible isolation of the sparsely populated outback.

He began as a country school teacher at Buchan, in the Snowy River district, but soon decided to study for the ministry, to take on bush mission work. He was ordained in 1911, and appointed to the Smith of Dunesk Mission, South Australia. In 1912, Flynn travelled the continent from north to south as the Presbyterian General Assembly’s investigator.  Those were the days when one white woman beyond Alice Spring used to travel 600 miles – 25 days by camel team, with no other company than the Afghan drivers – to have her babies. Sickness and accident was the great dread of the outback.

People called Flynn a dreamer and a visionary when he organised a nation-wide appeal for funds to establish nursing homes and base hospitals in central Australia. But gradually, by the Australian Inland Mission, by Government grants, and by local funds, his plan began to work. The First World War showed him how planes could be used for a flying doctor and air ambulance service. The beginning of Qantas brought this, the first flying doctor service, in sight. There was still the problem of communications. Flynn helped inspire Alfred Traeger, a young Adelaide electrician, to devise the pedal generator. With this combined transmitting and receiving set, the outback people could not only call the doctor in emergency. They could talk to each other, have a gossip over the back fence with neighbours 1oo miles away. When the system was tied in with the telegraph service, they could even – a controversial subject, this – place bets, as the townsmen can by telephone.

The thing grew beyond the scope of mission control. Australian Aerial Medical Services was founded in 1934. The loneliness was beaten. Flynn saw his dream come true’.  [H A Standish, May 1951].

John Fynn in 1929……certainly not the way the story of his life depicts how he would look!!!

It’s a pity that most of the articles I found in the loose newspaper cuttings were not dated. One quite long article headed ‘Women of the Inland – When Doctors are Far Away’ told of the way things were before all of Flynn’s ‘dreams’ were realised. As this undated item written by an E Powell noted ‘The fine work of the Inland Mission cannot penetrate everywhere, and the country is so huge, so vast, that it would be impossible for every isolated home to be in touch with the flying doctors, as organised at present. To have their children born in town, many outback women in remote places would have to travel several hundred miles by buggy [camel in drought, horses in the wet season] over impossible country; then take train south for months or weeks of separation and loneliness from children and husbands. Then would follow more weeks of convalescence, and the long journey back, with an infant in arms’.  The dreams and visions of John Flynn, as illustrated in the above ‘obituary’ were always aimed at overcoming those kind of situations. Between  1912 and 1932, Flynn had worked tirelessly to achieve his dream. As the man himself said in 1932, ‘It would not cost so much [for the whole of Australia to be covered by the flying doctor service]. At Cloncurry, it cost us Two Thousand, Five Hundred Pound a year for doctor, pilot and plane; the big expense would be the installation of every homestead with a wireless transmitter, without which the flying doctor service is useless…………..with that equipment and a medical service base, no woman would dread going outback, and no man would be afraid to ask her to. After all, those men inland have a right to wives, and their wives have a right to security’.

I’m rather indebted to my father for possessing this book, and to the author, who in his time wrote many other popular books of Australian outback life. With the bulk of the Australian population living around the fertile coastal fringes of our island nation, it is \books like those of Ion Idriess, that are sorely missed these days, as those city and town based ‘populations’ have little idea in many respects of the isolation and loneliness that still exists today, though to a much lesser than in Flynn’s time. It’s for that reason, that I’m pleased to be able to continue to support and promote [as I do from time to time through these pages] the inherited work and dedication of John Flynn through our modern day ‘Frontier Services’ organisation.

Ion IdriessIon L Idriess


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