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Commonwealth Government Records about the Northern Territory

John Flynn (1880–1951)

John Flynn was born in Victoria on 25 November 1880 and educated in Melbourne. Ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1911 he was commissioned by his church to visit the Northern Territory in 1912 and report on its missionary needs. His report, Northern Territory and Central Australia – A Call to the Church, was accepted by the Presbyterian General Assembly, and as a result he was appointed field superintendent of the Australian Inland Mission (AIM), a position he held for the next 39 years.

The vast distances of the Territory and the lack of adequate medical facilities concerned Flynn, and from 1917 onwards he founded a series of nursing services in remote locations. Taking advantage of the rapid development of aviation in the 1920s, Flynn was instrumental in the formation of the AIM Aerial Medical Service in May 1928. A base in Alice Springs was opened in 1939.

The effectiveness of the service was assisted by the invention of the pedal radio in 1929 (developed by Alfred Traeger). With several name changes, the AIM Aerial Medical Service became the Royal Flying Doctor Service in 1954.

Flynn was also concerned with providing shelter for the older population of Central Australia, and in 1949 he designed the first cottage to be built at the Old Timers' Settlement in Alice Springs.

He was awarded an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1933, and served as Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church from 1939 until 1942. He died in July 1951, and his ashes were placed in a commemorative grave on Larapinta Drive, a few kilometres west of Alice Springs facing the McDonnell Ranges. A church dedicated to Flynn's memory was completed in Alice Springs in 1956.

Selected records relating to John Flynn
National Archives, Canberra
Northern Territory – Flying Doctor Service of Australia Federal Council – commemorative structure to Reverend Dr John Flynn, 1944–51 A431,1951/1271
Very Reverend John Flynn – honour, 1950 A463, 1959/3703
National Archives, Sydney
Very Reverend Dr John Flynn – founder, Australian Inland Mission (audio tape), 1947 C102, REL6
John Flynn Memorial Church, Alice Springs – laying foundation stone by Prime Minister (audio tape), 1954 C102, REL30
National Archives, Darwin
Flying doctor – Northern Territory medical service, 1934–38 F1, 1936/651
Flying doctor – Barkly Tableland, 1937 F1, 1937/375
Flying doctor – Northern Territory medical service, 1937–39 F1, 1939/6
Government aircraft – flying doctor, 1937–39 F1, 1940/360
Commemorative structure – Reverend Dr John Flynn, 1943–49 F1, 1952/1065
Australian Inland Mission requests – reference John Flynn's Grave and Old Timers Home, Alice Springs, 1955 F1, 1955/1263


Chapter 16
Territory Personalities