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Broken Hill - The Far West

AUSTRALIA | Sunday, 25 March 2007 | Views [8216] | Comments [2]

On the slow journey to Broken Hill, we had marvelled at the increasing remoteness. We stopped at settlements to discuss the road conditions ahead, and even enjoyed some interesting conversations in remote pubs about the problems associated with shearing wrinklies (Marino sheep).

As most people do on any trip, we had tuned into the environment, adjusted to the pace and things quickly become quite normal. So Broken Hill came as something of a shock. It is a real town, with roads, hotels, shops and a McDonalds; an oasis in the middle of nowhere. Just when it was beginning to feel like we were getting somewhere in Australia, it is as if we now have reset and start over.

Broken Hill, population 20,000, lays in the far west of NSW. It owes its existence exclusively to mining, and since 1885 has been tapping into rich reserves of silver, lead and zinc. In the excellent information centre, you can learn in depth about this intriguing little place, and choose between a plethora of mine tours. Mines are interesting enough, and over the years I have ended up underground in various places, so I opted out when Matt booked himself onto one. Using the Lonely Planet Australia, he chose the popular Delprat’s Mine, officially the first, sunk by Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd (BHP). Rising from its 130 metre depths wearing his mining gear, Matt could confirm that it is deep, dangerous, dark and damp.

Flying Doctors

Mining aside, we had been looking for something that has Australia written all over it. Browsing the guidebook, we were pleased to find that nearby was a Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) base.

Until now, I had never really stopped to appreciate just what a valuable service this is. It was the brainchild of Rev John Flynn, who regularly witnessed the daily struggle of pioneers living in remote areas, where just two doctors provided the only medical care for an area of 2 million sq km. In 1928 the Aerial Medical Service was born, using a single De Havilland DH50A, a bi-plane made from timber and fabric.

During the 1950’s the service received Royal patronage and was renamed the Royal Flying Doctor Service. It has come on a long way since; from pedal operated Morse code machines to HF radio and satellite. From bi-plane to modern twin engine Boeing aircraft, the service now covers 80% of Australia, an area larger than Western Europe, and can reach any patient, anywhere, within two hours. Today the RFDS employs some 140 pilots along with 120 nurses and 115 doctors, using 50 aircraft based at 22 stations across the country. Each year their aircraft fly nearly 20 million kilometres, the medical teams carry out over 33,000 emergency evacuations and 230,000 patients are treated.

“Our pilots have to be very skilled, they operate day or night in changeable conditions, and have to land in some imaginative places” Ethel told us. All stations have some sort of bush landing strip, and she explained that when aircraft are expected, locals have to go out and clear the strip of Kangaroos and Emus. As you can see in the images attached to this blog, sometimes things go wrong!

In addition to providing life-saving medical assistance to extremely remote communities, it also has a programme of weekly fly-in clinics around the territory. This is the modern face of the service, where the preventative work aims to increase personal health and awareness among outback dwellers, including indigenous communities.

Many remote families choose to purchase the RFDS medical chest, a one-off payment where the chest is updated free of charge. It contains a comprehensive selection of life-saving drugs, and is designed to be used in conjunction with the 24hr GP phone/radio consultation service. Each chest contains a simple diagram of the human body and is labelled to enable clear communication by radio. The drugs are numbered, to eliminate confusion over lengthy names. Many lives have been saved, even basic operations carried out, by instructions over the HF radio while awaiting the arrival of the flying doctor. Ethel, who works at the base, told us of a time when one farmer was instructed over the radio to administer drug “number 9” to his patient. He dutifully carried this out, then came back to the handset to report to the GP – “we don’t have any number 9, so I gave him a shot of 7 and 2”! Thankfully, the patient was still hanging on when the aircraft arrived!

If ever there was a cause worth supporting, for Australian citizen or visitor to the outback, then this is it. It is one of those things you want to get behind and see do well – and thankfully it does. Everywhere out here, in pubs and gas stations for example, you can see collection boxes and posters for fund raising events. It is an organisation that thrives out of necessity, by the people, for the people, with little aid or interference from any government. Long may that continue. To learn more about RFDS, visit their website by clicking here. Related links of interest appear at the bottom of this blog.

After so much driving, we had taken a day off to relax. I used the time to catch up with and publish a few blogs – being the first and possibly last place to get online. We put together the two movies which we hope you enjoyed; we certainly had a lot of laughs in making them! Being a weekend, it was a good opportunity to get around a few pubs and meet the locals.

Like any town that grew out of a mining industry, there are plenty of old style pubs to try out. In its hay-day, Broken Hill sported sixty watering holes. Despite our best journalistic intentions, we have yet to gather any useable material for a “night on the town” blog. Failure to carry the correct equipment, and severe memory loss both play their part; but it is true to say that we met an interesting cross-section of the Broken Hill community. We ended up in one of those bizarre nightspots that are neither a club, a pub, a restaurant nor a gambling den, but a labyrinthine combination of the lot. Visitors like us have to undergo the stringent signing-in process, but once inside the amber nectar flows almost until sunrise.

The following day, feeling nothing like we had just had a day off, it was time to get back on that road – the final push to Lake Eyre.

Royal Flying Doctors Service website

Tags: ambassador van, sightseeing



Man I love these posts !! Informative, entertaining and throws you right in the middle of the journey. Keep it up guys, it's everything travel blogging should be.

  kipnomad Mar 27, 2007 11:53 PM


Cheers Bro! Bloggin is a new thing to me - I have a tendancy to rattle on too much! Having lots of fun, stories finding us all the time...

  wanderyears Mar 28, 2007 8:17 PM

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