Is There a Doctor in the Bush?

Back of the current A$20.00 note from the Reserve Bank of Australia featuring Rev. John Flynn, the founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

With the current worldwide medical emergency ongoing, I looked for medical related depictions on paper money. Sadly, I could find none. While Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, was on a Clydesdale Bank of Scotland note and numerous politicians who were also physicians appear on notes, I could find no depictions related to the medical field on paper money.

The closest representation is on the current $20.00 note from Australia which depicts Rev. John Flynn, the founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, on the back of the note. Flynn was a Presbyterian clergyman who missioned to the scattered communities of the outback. He published The Bushman’s Companion in 1910 as a guide to help those in remote communities with basic needs.

The vignette to the left of John Flynn shows a Flying Doctor Service De Havilland taking off from Broken Hill, NSW in 1948.

Flynn dedicated his life to serving the scattered populations in Australia and sought ways to use new technology to this advantage. Flynn founded a number of bush hospitals and frequently made public appeals for their support. A letter from a WWI pilot, Lt. John Clifford Peel (who died in service in 1918), inspired Flynn to raise money to create an airborne medical service for the outback.

The image on the far right of the note depicts a pedal powered radio transceiver invented by Alfred Traeger which sped communications among the far-flung outback communities. Prior to its use communication was by telegraph – a cumbersome way to transmit medical information.

By 1928, Flynn had raised enough money to commence regular service. Using a De Havilland DH.50 provided by the Queensland and New Territories Air Service, the first flight took off in May of that year. The organization was originally named the AIM Aerial Medical Service. By 1932 a nationwide network of flying doctors was organized and the name was changed to the Australian Aerial Medical Service. In 1942, the name was changed to the Flying Doctor Service. In 1955, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the royal monicker on the service.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service has over 60 aircraft in use today and more than 1,000 employees providing medical services throughout Australia.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the face of the note. It depicts Mary Reibey, a pioneering Australian businesswoman. Born Mary Haydock in England, she was orphaned at a young age. She was sentenced to transportation to Australia for stealing a horse at the age of 15. She married Thomas Reibey when she was 17 in 1794. Thomas started a cargo service on the Hawkesbury River which prospered. After he died in 1811, Mary expanded the enterprise to include eight commercial vessels and sizable commercial holdings in and around Sydney. She died in 1855.

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