A semi-forgotten packet of photos has resided in my photo vault for many years. While it was with some difficulty that I remembered where I had precisely ‘hidden’ these neglected images, a curious and unexpected enquiry last week has highlighted their more than interesting tale of “Trans-Tasman” goodwill.

 The photos include a fridge, a ‘Heath Robinson’ looking wireless set-up, a seemingly large ‘tin shed’, and a close up of a small plaque commemorating “A Gift” from the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand to commemorate the visit of the Rev John and Mrs Flynn in 1938.

The original plaque

 The Rev John Flynn O.B.E. is of course well known, even on this side of “The Ditch” [ie The Tasman Sea], for establishing the forerunner of the Australian Royal Flying Doctor Service. Appointed as Superintendent of the Australia Inland Mission (A.I.M.) in 1912, his spiritual work in the remote regions of the outback also highlighted a dire need for medical care. Establishing bush hospitals Flynn then very proactively encouraged support to establish “The Australian Aerial Medical Service” in 1934. Being better known today as the “Flying Doctor Service”, Flynn remained their well known public ‘face’ for many years. 

Electrolux Fridge

The recent enquiry we received from Australia curiously asked about a gift from the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand to the Rev John Flynn in 1938 but more intriguingly what it might have been! Research established that the Rev John and Mrs Flynn, at the request of the New Zealand Church, had in fact toured here for 11 weeks. Holding a very commendable 65 meetings, they both spoke about the work of A.I.M. and managed at a time of financial stringency to raise the very significant sum of £456 pounds which in today’s values amounts to almost NZ$42,000. Deducting other Mission related disbursements, £70 (now $6,417.00) was made available to A.I.M. to use as they wished, but significantly the sum of £105 (now $9,626.00) was specifically to be used to purchase a refrigerator and a ‘pedal transceiver’ for Dunbar Hospital.

Dunbar Hospital

 Dunbar Hospital lay close to 300 km north west of Cairns in Northern Queensland. Our semi-forgotten packet of photos includes a large two story “tin shed” which we now know to be Dunbar Hospital. Clad in corrugated iron with no apparent internal lining, large sun shades protect the semi-open upper level. One hopes however that it did not prove to be a fiery furnace! Taken inside the building are images of the fridge (which would have been kerosene powered) and the pedal transceiver. The latter includes the actual radio apparatus and headphones, dry cells, and floor mounted pedals connected to a generator, the latter being an early invention of Australian Alfred Traeger who became the Radio Engineer for A.I.M.. But more intriguingly is a typewriter with wires attached to it on a shelf under the radio. Through research we now know that outback stations used another of Traeger’s inventions, the highly ingenious “Traeger Telephony Transceiver”, being a typewriter actuating keys to automatically generate morse code simply by typing the keys for each letter of the alphabet.

'Heath Robinson' Transceiver

But that still leaves our puzzling enquiry concerning the “gift”. The enquirer advised us that they had found a small detached but battered and worn plaque under a house in Cairns, precisely the same plaque that would have been affixed to “our” transceiver (the fridge having a different and identifiable plaque). There are no clues as to how the plaque itself ‘migrated’ from Dunbar to Cairns or when it was removed from the transceiver other than the fact that the deceased owner of the house had been a Dental Technician working across Cape York and Torres Strait. Therefore what happened to our “Pedal Transceiver” may never be known however I am sure that we can be assured that for many years it provided a valuable and well used life-line to the outside world.

 Today Flynn and Traeger are both commemorated for their valuable contributions towards opening up the Outback to the outside world. We have suggested that the plaque could be donated to the John Flynn Place Museum and Art Gallery at Cloncurry which would help to perpetuate this little story of Trans-Tasman co-operation and goodwill. But additionally it would again serve as a small token of respect from this side of the Tasman to “Flynn of the Outback” and the esteem in which he was held.

 By Donald Cochrane

Curator of Photographs

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