John Flynn (1880

John Flynn (1880-1951)
By: Nasif Haroun
Sydney 2012
Flynn was born in Moliagul in Victoria, on 25 November 1880. Thomas Flynn, John’s
father, was a teacher; he was Irish and Scottish descent. John’s mother died when he was
two years old. He was baptized a Methodist.1
Flynn attended the University High School, Carlton, and became a member of the
Footscary Presbyterian Church (near Melbourne). In the year of his matriculation he
decided to become a minister. He was poor, so joined the Victorian Education
Department as a pupil-teacher to save money for the university course.2 Two of his
hobbies, first aid and photography, ate deeply into his salary.
In 1903 he began training for the ministry through an extra-mural course for student lay
pastors. He served as Home Missionary of the Presbyterian at Beech Forest in the Otway
Ranges (1903-4), and then at Buchan in East Gippsland, Victoria (1905-6). He entered
the Presbyterian Theological Hall at Ormond College 1907. He was not a great student
especially at Greek and Church History.3 But he scraped through and completed the
course in 1910.
In 1910 Flynn began the Mailbag League, and published the Bushman’s Companion
which distributed gratis throughout the Inland. It contained Bible reading, hymns, prayers
and practical advice. He volunteered for appointment in 1911 to the Smith of Dunesk
Mission in the northern Flinders Rangers, South Australia.4 This parish extended to the
rail head at Oodnadatta where the mission had placed a nursing sister and planned a
nursing hostel; under Flynn’s practical assistance.
Flynn was appointed by the Presbyterian General Assembly as superintendent of its
Australian Inland Mission. The mission he was to direct for thirty-nine years commenced
operation with one nursing sister, one padre, a nursing hostel and five camels. Bucknall
says: ‘It was safety network of nursing hostels and hospitals”.5
Flynn established patrols based on Port Hedland and Broome in Western Australia, Pine
Creek in the Northern Territory and Cloncurry in Queensland. Five years later, Flynn had
twenty-three nursing sisters in the field. He was designing the nursing hostel by himself
after consultation with architects, engineers, and local people to ensure that the design
was suitable to climatic conditions and available building material.
Peter Barnes, ‘Flynn and the Inland’, p. 2
W. Scott McPheat, Great Australians: John Flynn, (Melbourne: Halstead Press, 1964), p 1-3.
Barnes. ‘Flynn and the Inland’, p.2
Graeme Bucknall, ‘Flynn, John (1880- 1951)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Center of
Biography, Australian National University,,
accessed 28 August 2012.
From 1913 to 1927 Flynn’s magazine, the Inlander, led his battle for a ‘brighter bush’.
He developed the magazine. Flynn was a practical man in his ministry, he said “sensation
is too cheap, we need action’. He confessed that everyone was ignorant of how to help
but, he believed that we can educate ourselves and mend our ways to know how to help
others when we want. Flynn was really as McPheat has called him “Apostle to the
Flynn was pioneer in his ministry for Aboriginals and services of the outback medically.
Flynn’s A.I.M. hospitals were then, as now, open to Aboriginals who were encouraged to
seek the medical care offered. His strategy was first choosing the location that may help a
lot, second marketing on radio.
In 1932 Flynn aged 51, married his devoted secretary, Jean Blanch Baird. In 1934 the
Australian Aerial Medical Service was formed, and gradually established a network of
bases nationwide.
The final phase of Flynn’s work was to merging his A.I.M. Aerial Medical Service into
national community service having resources far greater than any Church could provide.
Flynn’s dealings with members of State and Commonwealth parliaments made him a
representative for the scattered setters in two-thirds of Australia for whom he had become
the advocate for an adequate aerial medical service, the name was changed in 1942 to the
Flying Doctor Service of Australia and the designation of Royal was added in 1954.7
In 1939 Flynn was elected as moderator- general of the Presbyterian Church of Australia.
in 1940-41 the degrees of D.D. were conferred on him by the University of Toronto and
the Presbyterian College at McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
Flynn was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1933; He is featured
on one side of the current Australian 20 dollar note. Flynn died of cancer in Sydney on 5
May 1951.
W. Scott McPheat, John Flynn: Apostle to the Land, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1963).