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Angels in the Outback


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About the Author

Max Griffiths has been a shop steward in the Iron Workers Union, Council Member of the Royal flying Doctor Service, Superintendent Australian Inland Mission, a Parish Minister, A Council Member of Scotch College, an Executive Member of the Presbyterian Church, Chairman and Board Member of the Uniting Church, a Foundation Member of Ronald Macdonald House, Member Royal Melbourne Hospital Animal Ethics Committee, Board Member of the Austin Hospital and Chairman (at Austin) of the Research and Patient Care Ethics Committees. He is currently Chairman of Norwood Association (support of people with psychiatric disabilities), Honorary Consultant in Ethics at the Austin Hospital, Expert Adviser in Ethics to the Gene Technology Regulator in Canberra and an Ethics Consultant at Royal Darwin Hospital.


This is a remarkable story told for the first time in all its detail and with the understanding of an insider. Just before World War I when the Australian outback suffered with the decline of its goldmines and the hard times on its pastoral runs, a young Victorian arrived to see how he could help. The white inhabitants were few, and were rarely if ever visited by clergymen, doctors or nurses. The long-distance mailman was the most regular visitor, but the letters and newspapers he brought were sometimes weeks old. Then the biggest town of todays outback, Alice Springs, held just a few people. In Central Australia lived many Aborigines who had not met a European. It was the Reverend John Flynn, a young Presbyterian clergyman from Victoria, who set out to ease the loneliness of many outback people. Working under the banner of his Australian Inland Mission he eventually was helped by travelling padres who held religious services where two or three people and a child or two were gathered together, and by the young nurses who opened makeshift hospitals far from the doctors surgery. The difficulties they faced are traced in this book. We see Sister Latto Bett travelling on an open trolley along one of the few outback railways, and holding up an umbrella to protect her from the intense heat. We glimpse Padre Plowman riding a camel, for it was still the main carrier in a vast arid area. Here in the late 1920s the worlds first flying doctor service was founded. It was made possible by Flynns supporters; a young and dedicated Melbourne doctor named George Simpson; Alfred Traegar of Adelaide who devised a pedal wireless that linked outback homesteads and camps with the faraway pilot and doctor; and the engineers who managed to fit a stretcher inside the cramped cabin of the tiny Qantas aircraft of that era. Above all Flynn received financial help from two Victorians, the fundraising the Reverend J.A. Barbour and the celebrated maker of harvesting machines, H.V. McKay. Tens of thousands of other Australians, many of whom were poor, donated the money that spread this aerial network across the continent. After Flynn died, his role as leader was taken up by Fred McKay, a North Queenslander, and then by Max Griffiths, the author of this book. The brisk revival of outback mining in the second half of the twentieth century, and the changing way of life of Aboriginal peoples, multiplied the calls on the organisation that Flynn had founded. Max G

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