In the late 19th Century, the Christian churches became increasingly concerned about people living in the Outback, and Congregational ministers began “travelling out” to remote areas in the 1890s. In 1894 the Smith of Dunesk Mission in South Australia sent out a Presbyterian Minister to areas north of Beltana in South Australia and a nursing service began at Oodnadatta in 1907.
The young Rev John Flynn – the founder of what is today Frontier Services – had worked in rural and remote areas of Victoria and was commissioned by the Presbyterian Church to look at the needs of Outback people. His report to the Presbyterian Assembly in 1912 resulted in the establishment of the Australian Inland Mission (AIM), of which he was appointed Superintendent.
Flynn had a vision to establish a “mantle of safety” so people could build sustainable communities despite the hardships of Outback life.
A pressing need was for medical services and Flynn focused on setting up nursing posts and hospitals. Sisters travelled by camel, horse, rail and even motor tricycle.
The first AIM “Patrol Padres” went out in 1913 by camel and horse from Pine Creek, Oodnadatta, Broome and Port Hedland to provide pastoral care and counselling services to people on isolated properties, minesites and road gangs. The first car was purchased for the Cloncurry Padre in 1915.
John Flynn also dreamed of using aircraft to conquer the vast Outback distances. In 1928, he formed the AIM Aerial Medical Service which later became a separate organisation called The Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Flynn also saw improved communications as another way to overcome Outback isolation. With his encouragement, the pedal wireless was invented by Alf Traeger, and featured a generator operated by pedal power similar to a bicycle. By 1937 there were 64 pedal wireless sets in the AIM network of nine hospitals, seven Patrol Padres, eight Mission and Welfare Centres and three Aerial Medical Service bases.
Flynn died in 1951 and the Rev Fred McKay was appointed Superintendent and continued to expand the AIM’s services for Outback people.
In 1977 the Uniting Church was established and the inland missions of the Presbyterian, Congregational and Methodist Churches were combined to form Frontier Services.
Flynn’s vision for Outback people continues to be implemented today through Frontier Services. It is still the welcome visitor, the friend, the counsellor and advocate for the people of remote Australia.