Uniting Church McKay Patrol (Cloncurry) and the RFDS

The McKay Patrol is a remote-area aerial padre service run by the Uniting Church of Australia, based in Cloncurry (northwest Queensland).  It is named after the Reverend Fred McKay.  In 1927 Fred was appointed by Reverend John Flynn to oversee the formation and operation of the aerial medical service that later become the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).  The McKay Patrol padre continues to provide invaluable counselling and practical assistance in addition to the standard religious services relating to hatches, matches and dispatches (baptisms, weddings and funerals).

The Uniting Church’s Frontier Services has padres located in other remote parts of Australia as well:

  • Burke and Wills Patrol (Charleville, QLD)
  • Cunnamulla Patrol (Cunnamulla, QLD)
  • Cape York Patrol (Weipa, QLD)
  • Centralian Patrol (Alice Sprints, NT)
  • Pilbara Patrol (Tom Price, WA)
  • Eyre Patrol (Wudinna, SA)
  • Flinders Patrol (Hughenden, QLD)
  • Forrest Patrol (Kunumurra, WA)
  • Gascoyne Patrol (Exmouth, WA)
  • Jabiru Patrol (Jabiru, NT)
  • Midlands Patrol (Oatlands, TAS)
  • Mobile Aboriginal Patrol (Hawkes, SA)
  • Murchison Patrol (Meekatharra, WA)
  • Parkin Patrol (Port Augusta, SA)
  • Sturt Patrol (Peterborough, SA)
  • Tennant Barkly Patrol (Tennant Creek, NT)
  • West Coast Patrol (Queenstown, TAS)
  • West Nullabor Patrol (Esperance, WA)
  • Western Desert Patrol (Meekatharra, WA)

I highly recommend reading the McKay Patrol monthly newsletters, which are very witty but very earthy, giving a good insight into the realities of living in remote areas.  For example the December 2010 newsletter, which discusses two long flights Cloncurry-based Reverend Garry Hardingham made recently, helping out two families with medical-related travel problems.

Over the last two decades or so there has been a change in the perception of the RFDS amongst remote area residents, who are not happy with the service provided by the RFDS and the perception of race discrimination (people who ring are asked their racial origins).  It was station residents who funded the formation and growth of the RFDS, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through charity events, yet many now feel they are the people least likely to receive assistance.

It is difficult to know how significant the issue is, but the perception remains that if you are a white person you have to be a lot sicker or you will not be picked up and flown to a base hospital by the RFDS.   The aircraft used by the RFDS have become increasingly sophisticated – far more expensive to buy and maintain but able to provide a much better service, but these newer planes do need longer and better strips to land on than previously (thus being not so suited to the average cattle station airstrip).  And because of the increasing cost of service provision, and the complications of long flights often requiring diversions to pick up other passengers for vitally needed medical help, there is little or no room for people to accompany critically ill patients.

The concerns would largely be addressed if the RFDS capital and annual running costs were fully funded by state and federal governments as an essential medical service provided not just to remote area residents (of all backgrounds), but visitors to remote areas, as an equality issue.   The RFDS should not be in the position of having to rely on charity donations to survive.

In the meantime, lower profile organisations such as Angel Flight and the McKay Patrol scratch around for donations each year in order to continue providing essential medical-related services that also should be fully funded by state and federal governments.

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