October – Frontier Services
Unlike Australia’s Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, and the President of the Uniting Church in Australia, the Rev. Professor Andrew Dutney, I was a late-comer to the Frontier Services story.
Ms Bryce learnt about John Flynn — the founder of the Australian Inland Mission (AIM), antecedent of Frontier Services — when she was a little girl in outback Queensland.
Apparently her parents thought the world of him and offered him and his wife hospitality at their home, the Ilfracombe Wool Scour.
Her father and John Flynn would talk late into the night.
Professor Dutney says Frontier Services (and its predecessor the AIM) was always part of the way he understood Australia, the church and himself. Born in Charleville Base Hospital, he says the shared sense of outback identity “made us all feel like kin of John Flynn”.
It was in 1992 as a reporter at the Frontier Services 80th Anniversary celebrations in Alice Springs that I caught the vision.
I’d been working for the Uniting Church Assembly for some time but seeing all those church faithful gathered to so fervidly celebrate the work of Flynn and the many patrol padres, the nurses, community workers and volunteers who’d made up “the mantle of safety” really made me sit up and take notice.
This was not just a good story; it was God’s love in action — God’s hands, feet, camels and propellers, going out to some of the hardest-to-get-to places in our wide, parched land to help people out.
How I loved the stories of the AIM sisters fixing up the “sandy blight” in kids’ eyes or nursing casualties from wild brumbies being herded —for the first time — into cattle trucks.
And the story of a little Aboriginal boy at Ernabella Mission station bringing a model of a plane to a harvest festival service because the flying doctor had made him well.
Still, for me, when it comes to Frontier Services, the pictures tell the story best.
The Rev. John Flynn was not just a visionary Presbyterian minister; he was also a pretty fine photographer and knew the power of images to convey what words alone could not. Without the photos to prove it, what child today would believe Traeger’s pedal radio was a vital and effective means of communication?
Or that the first Presbyterian AIM Patrol Padres hit the interminable dusty track on horses and camel?
I am writing this in late September, just one day after Frontier Services celebrated 100 years of faithful service to individuals and families throughout remote Australia.
I am flicking through two lovely books that have been produced to ensure this remarkable story is well remembered and that the people and the church that made it possible get the recognition due.
The Hundred Year Book includes an illustrated timeline that highlights key dates and developments — and it reveals quite startlingly how the organisation has grown.
At the Very Heart: 100 Years in Remote Australia by Storry Walton (Wakefield Press, $49.95) is a coffee table book with beautiful visuals, which can be purchased from Frontier Services by phoning 1300 787 247 or from the Frontier Services shop on its website www.frontierservices.org.
As the Uniting Church’s immediate past president, the Rev. Alistair Macrae, says, the Frontier Services story is a wonderful illustration of the best of our tradition: “faithfulness combined with pragmatism, love of God expressed in care for neighbour, prayer bearing fruit in practical concern.”
We are John Flynn’s kin after all.