Flying doctors

May 15 2015

Cook, Nullarbor Plain, South Australia, 1961:

Toynbee passed through Cook by train en route from Adelaide to Perth in July 1956.

Through the whole of the morning and half the afternoon, the tufted red expanse went on opening out in front of us and fading away behind our rolling wheels. Nothing changed except when, once in every hour or two, we passed a row of half-a-dozen houses and a water tank. “Cook”, “Hughes”, “Reid”, “Haig”: such monosyllabic place-names are just the right ones for these pin-points of human life on the map of the wilderness. The rhythm of the journey is so regular that it begins to have a hypnotic effect. But something must be going to break the trance, for this evening we are to reach Kalgoorlie, and to-morrow we shall be in Perth.

Cook was created in 1917 with the completion of the Trans-Australian Railway and is named after the sixth Prime Minister of Australia, Joseph Cook.

It died in 1997 when the railways were privatised. The new owners did not need a support town there, but diesel refuelling and overnight accommodation for train drivers remain.

The bush hospital (supported from Ceduna and which advertised itself at the station with “If you’re crook come to Cook”) and airstrip were closed, but medical supplies are stored at Cook against a possible train disaster. The Tea and Sugar Train which had supplied the town ceased operation. The former airstrip is known as a place to spot inland dotterel. When Cook was active, water was pumped from an aquifer. Now it is carried in by train.

The Anglican-affiliated Bush Church Aid Society of Australia, 1919- , mentioned in the clip, were not the more famous flying doctors, but the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia, 1928- (it began with a different name) also had evangelical origins, in their case Presbyterian. How much of their respective work was directed at indigenous Australians?

The largest religious group in Australia are Catholics.

The Flying Doctor, Australian-British film by Miles Mander, 1936

Flying Doctor Calling, history by Ernestine Hill, 1947

The Flying Doctor, Australian-British television drama series about RFDSA, 39 episodes, 1959; in UK shown on ITV; opening credits; based on radio drama series broadcast, in the UK, on the BBC; how were both of these aired in Australia?

Six novels by Michael Noonan, 1961-69

The Flying Doctors, Australian (Nine Network) television drama series, 1986-93; opening credits (do they ever stop smiling?)

RFDSA promotional film, 2006

Australian eBay

Flying Doctors of Malaysia

The Flying Doctors of East Africa, film by Werner Herzog, 1969

Amref Health Africa

Flying Doctors of America

Los Médicos Voladores

Sai Wan, Hong Kong island, 1961 again; it is hard to believe that this is not some comparatively remote spot in the New Territories:

History of air medical services

The French pioneer of medical aviation was Marie Marvingt; in 1934, she established the first civil air ambulance service in Africa, in Morocco; Marvingt and her proposed air ambulance, by Émile Friant, 1914:

Marie Marvingt, 1914

Flying Doctor Calling

Le toubib volant

East to West, A Journey Round the World, OUP, 1958

One Response to “Flying doctors”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Old Bank of China building clearly visible in the Hong Kong clip.


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