Following in the footsteps of ‘Flynn of the Inland’

On the road to the geographical centre of Australia near the NT/SA border
On the road to the geographical centre of Australia near the NT/SA border

It was in the year 1912 that John Flynn established the Australian Inland Mission.

Immediately, he set out to establish a MANTLE OF SAFETY across the Continent, resulting in the founding of many Bush Hospitals, the Pedal Radio, Royal Flying Doctor Service and School of the Air.

I became fascinated with him as an extraordinary nation builder during my School Days in the 1930’s and studied his life story whenever I had the opportunity to visit the scenes of many of his greatest achievements.

His inspirational life caused me to make a decision in my greying years to write a book about him. I called it ‘The Man on the Twenty Dollar Notes’ and published it last year. It turned out to be a best seller, such is the public fascination of great achievers.

As part of my preparation for that experience as a writer, I travelled on some splendid bush tours with my friends John and Ros Thompson who personally run a small specialist touring company called NATURE BOUND AUSTRALIA. It is highly professional and very friendly.

The first trip was a memorable journey to the Corner Country, out where the borders of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory converge, the land where Burke and Wills died at the Dig Tree at Cooper Creek. It enabled me to look at the remains of the old Flynn Hospital at Birdsville and experience a little of what his constant drives across the Simpson Desert must have been like.

Then, the Thompson’s took us on an exploration of the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, up to Lake Eyre and the Red Centre, visiting Flynn’s old hospitals at Oodnadatta, Leigh Creek, Maree and Innamincka to learn about the lives he saved and the tragedies that he helped lonely people overcome as they suffered through sheer isolation.

What was great about a Nature Bound Tour with the Thompsons was their superb knowledge of flora, fauna, water, history and the legends of the bush. The dialogue was highly educational and fascinating. This should not have surprised me as John and I had worked together down the years planning such visions as diverting tropical rivers down into the parched inland and planning railways across the undeveloped North, none of which any government bothered to listen to. But we enjoyed the experience immensely. We even planned simple technology that Senior Australians would find useful in communicating with the world when they became too frail to get around, a very mini version of Flynn’s initiatives that finally led to the Pedal Radio.

All of this enabled me to understand how the Australian Bush fascinated Flynn. Travels across its vastness were a revitalising challenge that he enjoyed. It taught him to relax and be patient. A lot of us who work too hard could try it with the Thompson’s and enjoy the benefits while absorbing a lot of history. Actually, I met a single woman the other day who expressed interest in discovering the Inland, but not by travelling alone. I referred her to the Thompson’s. She can travel with them in comfort, style and security.

If you would like to learn more about Flynn before you venture forth with the Thompson’s, I suggest you click on the book title in the menu above, fill out and despatch the order form. Once you get into it you will want to follow the Flynn trail and experience the challenge that made him a nation builder. He will become a role model for your future no matter how old you may be.

Not so long ago. Helen and I travelled with the Thompson’s for a long weekend in the Border Ranges of Southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales, right into the timber country. We did it because my father had been a long time employee of a sawmill in a small bush town. It made me realise what a relaxing experience the peace and silence of the mountains really was. I did some of my clearest thinking in a long while, nothing to disturb me except the rustle of the wind and the calls of the birds and the magic of nature.

So, I leave you with this thought.

Flynn had a powerful faith, a belief that nothing is impossible and that people are a nation’s best assets. Australia will be enhanced if a little bit of his humble power rubs off on each of us. Australia will be a better place if the Flynn magic captures you and me.

Give John and Ros a call and open the door to a new experience of life.

They can be contacted via their website and you can explore their varied tour options

Yours at Large
Everald Compton

Australia's longest place name , on the largest cattle station in the world, along the track from Coober Pedy
Australia’s longest place name , on the largest cattle station in the world, along the track from Coober Pedy

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Man on Twenty Dollar Notes: Compton puts words in John Flynn’s mouth – Book Review by Ross Fitzgerald

Book review by Columnist for The Australian – Ross Fitzgerald (Published in The Weekend Australian, 9 July 2016)

Decades ago, when I was a student at Melbourne High School, I was entranced by reading a battered biography of John Flynn, founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. First published in 1932, Flynn of the Inland was written by that vastly underrated Australian writer, Ion Idriess.
Now, 84 years and eight books about him later, yet another biography of Flynn, who was born at Moliagul, central Victoria in 1880, has seen the light of day. Self-published by veteran author Everald Compton, this is a peculiar but fascinating book
Blessed with a catchy title, The Man on the Twenty Dollar Notes, the book reveals that as well as creating the RFDS, in partnership with legendary aviator Hudson Fysh, Flynn helped found the School of the Air, pioneered the pedal-powered radio and built numerous bush hospitals throughout inland and remote Australia for the Australian Inland Mission.
Compton regards Flynn as a prime example of muscular Christianity and of faith in action. Indeed, as he notes, in 1912 Flynn — an ordained minister — was commissioned by the Presbyterian Church of Australia to create what it termed “a mantle of safety” across what was then for many non-indigenous people an extremely lonely continent.
In this clearly produced and well documented book, Compton confesses that he has been a huge fan of Flynn since he first learned about his exploits at bush Sunday schools in the mid-1930s.
Yet The Man on the Twenty Dollar Notes is not an easy book to read or to understand.
Even though Compton claims, I suspect in the main rightly, that his tale is based on the known facts of Flynn’s life, the copious dialogue in the book is what he thinks would or could have occurred at the time, given what he says is his knowledge of Flynn’s “unforgettable personality”.
To take another example, the sermon in the book that Flynn “delivers” at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Brisbane is not the one he in fact delivered there shortly before his death in 1951. Instead, Compton admits, it is “an amalgam of words” based on selected themes from speeches Flynn made across many years, including some of the words that he actually spoke that evening.
While most of the characters in this book are real people with whom Flynn is known to have lived and worked, others are invented. These include a young volunteer nurse Flynn “meets” just before his death and a handful of pilgrims who, decades after his death, relive and review Flynn’s life of service to others. The role of these made-up characters Compton endeavours to explain in a postscript, not altogether successfully.
One of the many pluses in this biography is how Compton documents and explores how Flynn’s successes were based on partnerships, not just with Fysh and Alfred Traeger — with whom he created a pedal radio that connected the bush with the wider world — but with the ‘‘cattle king’’ of inland Australia, Sidney Kidman, and also with leading politicians.
The latter included Country Party leader Arthur Fadden, who was famously prime minister for 40 days and 40 nights in 1941.
Flynn also worked well with Liberal PM Robert Menzies, who publicly mourned his death, and especially with the ALP’s Jim Scullin, a devout Catholic who regarded the pioneering Presbyterian doctor as a mate.
From time to time Flynn also co-operated with Labor’s Ben Chifley and even with the notorious political turncoat WM “Billy” Hughes.
Even though I remain a committed atheist, it is hard to disagree with Compton when he concludes that Flynn leaves a great legacy and a fine example to modern Christianity, which so often continues to struggle with a crisis of belief.
But ultimately this is not a book about religion. It is based on what its erudite author calls “a power beyond ourselves” that manifested itself in Flynn’s life of service to others. This force or power Compton vividly describes in a non-religious way. He regards it as being deeply relevant to our secular society in the 21st century.
It seems to me that Compton’s creation is a vintage and authentic Reverend Dr John Flynn who, according to this well-written book, seldom preached but simply yarned with the diverse men and women he met along the way, including members of his many congregations.
Ross Fitzgerald is emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University.
The Man on the Twenty Dollar Notes: Flynn of the Inland
By Everald Compton

TAMING THE NORTH

I have been a voter since 1952 and, at every election since then, there has been someone, either a Prime Minister or an Opposition Leader or an aspiring MP, who has seriously threatened to develop Northern Australia.

Sadly, I still wait with fervent hope for a leader to appear who will actually do it. For the past sixty years it has simply been an exercise in vote gathering. Continue reading “TAMING THE NORTH”

IN SEARCH OF A NATION BUILDER

Australia is a disgracefully underdeveloped and poorly planned nation, the result of hugely neglectful politics over a long period of time.

Because no thought has ever been given to balanced development, most of our population is crammed into capital cities where the price of housing is exorbitant, roads are clogged and suburban rail systems are primitive.

80% of our land mass is sparsely populated and poorly serviced by internet, hospitals, water, railways, roads and ports. Continue reading “IN SEARCH OF A NATION BUILDER”