Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
John Flynn (aviator)
Born in the gold rush town of Moliagul, about 200 kilometres north-west of Melbourne, Victoria. His mother died in childbirth when Flynn was three, and he spent part of his childhood growing up with relatives. Flynn moved to Sunshine, now an outer western suburb of Melbourne as a child, where he completed secondary school in 1898, and began working as a schoolteacher. By 1903 he decided he wished to become a Presbyterian minister, and entered Ormond College, a college of the University of Melbourne to study divinity in 1907. He graduated in 1910 and was ordained in 1911.
Throughout his training, Flynn had worked in various then-remote areas through Victoria and South Australia, and his first posting after ordination was to the Smith of Dunesk Mission at Beltana, a tiny settlement 500 kilometres north of Adelaide. Beltana is a relatively isolated place even today and in those days was extremely remote. By 1912, after writing a report for his church superiors on the difficulties of ministering to such a widely scattered population, Flynn was made the first superintendent of the Australian Inland Mission. As well as tending to matters spiritual, Flynn quickly established the need for medical care for residents of the vast Australian outback, and established a number of bush hospitals.
By 1917, Flynn was already considering the possibility of new technology, such as radio and the aeroplane, to assist in providing a more useful acute medical service, and then received a letter from an Australian pilot serving in World War I, Clifford Peel , who had heard of Flynn's speculations and outlined the capabilities and costs of then-available planes. This material was published in the church's magazine, the start of Flynn turning his considerable fund-raising talents to the task of establishing a flying medical service. The first flight of the Aerial Medical Service was in 1928 from Cloncurry.
Miraculously surviving the Great Depression, Flynn guided the organisation, lobbying both politicians and his church, to take the service nationwide. In 1934 the Australian Aerial Medical Service was formed, and gradually established a network of bases nationwide. Flynn remained the public face of the organisation (through name changes to its present form) and helped raise the funds that kept the service operating.
While undoubtedly most famous for the organisation that became the RFDS, Flynn's work with the Mission extended well beyond it. As well as the nursing homes, Flynn instituted travelling ministries - priests travelling vast distances on horseback through the inland. Flynn eventually rose through the church's hierachy to become Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church.
Flynn married the secretary of the AIM, Jean Baird, in 1931 at the relatively advanced age of 51. He finally retired and died in Sydney, and was cremated and his remains placed under a large boulder from the Devil's Marbles. In an unfortunate postscript to Flynn's life, the rock was taken ( bv the Northern Territory Department of Public Works) from a site sacred to the traditional owners. After many years of negotiations the rock was returned to its original location in 1998 and replaced with one acceptable to the Aboriginal people, both of the original rock's home and the people whose land his grave lies.
- Australian Inland Mission collection - digitised images from the National Library of Australia
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