The Royal Flying Doctor Service welcomes the “Great Pilgrimage”

It was a significant moment in Australian history.

On the morning of May 17, 1928, an emergency call was received from the Julia Creek Bush Nursing Home – some 60 miles from Cloncurry in Western Queensland.

Pilot Arthur Affleck, flying without communications or a navigation aid, and Dr Kenyon St Vincent Welch took off in a single engine De Haviland 50 bi-plane named “Victory” leased from the fledgling Qantas airline for two shillings a mile.


This was the inaugural flight of the Australian Aerial Medical Service, which would soon be re-named The Flying Doctor Service of Australia (RFDS).

The brainchild of The Reverend John Flynn of the Australian Inland Mission, it was one of the world’s first aeromedical services. History records that the two patients’ Dr Welch operated on both survived.

Greg Sam, Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Flying Doctor Service says 90 years on and the organisation stands proud.

“Using aircraft and the specially invented pedal radio to deliver healthcare just a couple of decades after the first flight was seen as innovative, risky even, but Flynn’s vision was fully justified.”

A squadron of 26 vintage aircraft, registered through the Antique Aeroplane Association of Australia, will mark the 90th anniversary of that historic first flight with a “Great Pilgrimage” of vintage aircraft from New South Wales to Queensland.

The Squadron leaves Moree today for Roma, led by two 1930’s Tiger Moths and a 1950’s Hercules transport from the RAAF.

Their itinerary is: 

  • 10/11 May Roma
  • 11- 13 May Charleville (between 10am – 12pm)
  • 13 May Longreach
  • 15/16 May Winton
  • 16/17 May Cloncurry
  • 17 May Julia Creek
  • 17 May Mount Isa

Mr Sam says while this event has a strong historical focus, it’s also about anticipating the next 90 years.

“The RFDS is just as relevant today as it was in 1928. We have a “waiting room” of some 7.6 million km sq and during the past year we flew 24.6 million kms to help almost 339,000 people, which is the equivalent of one every two minutes.”

“Every day right across Australia the RFDS delivers vital emergency and primary healthcare services, including: mental health, oral health, GP clinics, Alcohol and other Drugs, breast care, Women and children’s health – as well as a range of specialist clinics.”

“We are dedicated to delivering the finest care to the furthest corners and reducing the gap in health and wellness between those living in remote, rural and regional areas and those in the cities.”

“John Flynn said it best, ‘If you start something worthwhile, nothing can stop it.’”