Vickers, Allan

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MB 1927 ChM 1927

Allan Vickers was responsible – with founder Reverend John Flynn – for the establishment of a network of flying doctor bases across the country and the foundation of the Flying Doctor Service as a national organisation.[1]

Allan Vickers was born in Caniambo, Victoria in 1901. He graduated MB ChM at the University of Sydney in 1927 and returned to Albury to commence medical practice. According to Harry Hudson, who has documented his story, Vickers then decided to go to London to do postgraduate studies and went to Sydney to book his passage:

It was then that he met the Rev John Flynn…Flynn had the knack of surrounding himself with the right kind of people at the right time. Within a week after accepting the appointment, Vickers was on his way to Cloncurry… His appointment was at a salary of 1000 pounds per year and in addition, the AIM insured his life for 2000 pounds – no mere formality, as insurance companies charge high premiums to people engaged in aviation.

Like Welch before him, Vickers undertook many emergency flights, often in adverse conditions. One such call-out became famous, although it did not end well. In 1932 Vickers made a long distance flight of 1300 miles from Normanton, on the Gulf of Carpenteria, to Brisbane in a desperate attempt to save the life of a young man who had injured his eyes in the explosion of a kerosene refrigerator. By the time Vickers arrived, pneumonia had set in and he and the pilot decided to take the patient to Brisbane. As Hudson, recalls:

It was the Wet Season and the weather was boisterous. With the best speed of the aircraft at 85 mph and stops at Cloncurry, Longreach, Charleville and Oakey, the flight to Brisbane took 15 hours… On the last stretches of the journey, Vickers became more and more anxious; his patient was sinking rapidly and he and the mother were extremely fatigued. Then, high in the air, somewhere over the Darling Downs, only 80 miles from their destination, the aircraft buffeted by storms and headwinds, the patient died…

News of the flight and of the aircraft’s expected time of arrival had been telegraphed to Brisbane… Reporters from the newspapers were waiting to get the story. Its tragic ending made the attempt to save the patient’s life only the more poignant, emphasising as it did the terrible isolation of people in the remote parts of Australia.

Though the effort had failed in its main purpose to save the lad’s life, it drew the attention of many city people, for the first time, to the unique character of the Flying Doctor Service and to the possibilities of aircraft for medical work”.[1]

Today, the Royal Flying Doctor Service covers all states of Australia and the Northern Territory. In 2005, they treated 234,483 people in an area of more than seven million square kilometres. The service has 50 aircraft, 136 pilots, 117 nurses and 115 doctors, many of whom are our alumni.

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Vickers, Allan. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.