Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

Serving others


Clyde Thomson has spent thirty-nine years with the Royal Flying Doctor Service and his final AGM was held at Parliament House in Sydney on November 7. Guest speaker Leigh Clifford (the Chairman of Qantas) first met Clyde in Broken Hill over thirty years ago. ‘I have the greatest admiration for your achievements,’ said Leigh.

Those achievements include twenty-seven years as CEO of the South Eastern Section of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, a new fleet of aircraft, a medical training school in Broken Hill (the first ever set up outside a major city in Australia) a new charity to raise money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service in England with HRH The Prince of Wales as Patron, the introduction of primary health services to complement emergency work, refurbished Bases in Broken Hill and Dubbo…the list goes on and on.

Clyde grew up in William Creek, a small town half way between Marree and Oodnadatta in Northern South Australia. “The last recorded population was six,’ he said in his speech. “It’s doubled since I left.”

As a child he met a travelling padre who listened to his mother’s pleas to get the child an education and arranged for him to go to boarding school, saving Clyde from an itinerant life on droving camps. That travelling padre was the Rev Fred Mckay, who became the Rev John Flynn’s successor at the head of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and it was Fred who later persuaded Clyde to join the organization as a young pilot.

In his speech Clyde paid tribute to Barbara Ellis, the executive assistant who has supported him throughout his tenure as CEO, and to Nicole Gerrard, the longest serving staff member in the marketing department (also recruited by the Rev Fred McKay) before going on to thank the many people who worked to make it all happen – Prof David Lyle, Dr Jack Best, Dr Sue Morey, president John Milhinch, past presidents Christine Liddy and Peter McMahon, as well as members of the RFDS Board past and present, including Mitty Davies, Joan Treweeke, John Gall, Terry Clark, Ruth Sandow, Elizabeth Johnstone, Prof Bruce Robinson and Lyell Strambi.

He also thanked the Patrons, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir and Sir Nicholas Shehadie for their unswerving, passionate and generous support. The acknowledgments included Adrian Morris, Michael Crouch, John Fairfax, David Reid, Leigh and Susan Clifford, Judy Jakins, Kerry Keady, parliamentarians John Williams, Troy Grant and Melinda Pavey (Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Health) and others whose names escape me now, as well as unsung heroes amongst the donors, volunteers and staff, whose contribution has been so valuable throughout his long career.

‘I couldn’t have done any of it without your help and support,’ he said. ‘You made it happen.’

Margaret and Olwyn were there to talk about pudding production in Broken Hill, Terry spoke of gala dinners and simulators in Dubbo, June described cycling across windswept country in sub zero temperatures, Maxina from White Cliffs handed over a cheque for several thousand dollars and Mark tried to explain why Santos holds a cricket match in the middle of the scorching Stzrelecki desert every year. Bill Patrick, who runs the Outback Car Trek (an event that raises over a million dollars every year) spoke about the children they meet along the route, whose lives depend on the work of the RFDS.

Fittingly, Grace was read by Patricia Boyer from the Country Woman’s Association and she chose one written by the Rev Fred Mckay all those years ago.

Like an old time music hall act – make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry – Clyde entertained the audience. ‘One Christmas Eve years ago we had a call from Ivanhoe,’ he said. ‘The doctor was told it was an emergency, a dead body. I was dubious, that wouldn’t normally be classed as an emergency, but the nursing sister in Ivanhoe was adamant that we had to respond.’

So they took off, on the hottest day of the year, and they flew to Ivanhoe to discover the town’s only pub had lost its refrigeration system. ‘You’ve got to take the body, we need the morgue to store beer,’ the nursing sister said bluntly. Before Clyde could object she added, ‘Listen, if the blokes in this town have to drink warm beer on Christmas Day you’ll be coming back on a real emergency, believe me.’

We all laughed until Clyde reminded us what real work meant. ‘I remember taking off through bush fires in a Beagle with ten mothers and children on board, I remember arriving in Broken Hill in a Nomad with fourteen patients, far beyond our maximum capacity, and I remember being on call continuously for six months due to a shortage of pilots. I did it because I served the people of the Bush,’ he said.

Having heard Clyde’s speech many times in rehearsal I wasn’t expecting to well up but I did. (And thank you Melinda Pavey, who grabbed my hand.)

‘Without your support we would not have Flynn’s Mantle of Safety to protect those who live and travel in the Bush,’ Clyde went on, ‘and the RFDS would not be the fabric that holds our remote communities together through drought, flood, fire and personal hardship. It is because of you that the RFDSSE is in good shape today.’

‘So, over 1,000 emergency flights and 11,000 flying hours and 39 years later, it’s time to hand over to another CEO. It’s been a wonderful journey, and in closing I leave you with this blessing…

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rain fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

9 comments on “Serving others

  1. Wendy Moore
    November 8, 2013

    Ah darling Deb. I would love to have been there. Thank you for sharing this for us who couldn’t. He is truly an inspiration and my hope now is that you two inspirational and gorgeous people can have a fabulous time together in all this “spare time” you will have. Chortle, chortle. And that you come back and visit! Much, much love, Wendy


  2. Val
    November 8, 2013

    Clyde Congratulations on a job exceptionally well done! It was an honour to have met you and to have played a small part in assisting with raising funds for the RFDSSE division. I look forward to hearing through Deb about your future adventures. Oh and I will never forget driving solo from BH to Qld and being near Dalby and hearing you telling your life story on ABC radio. Smiling with pride that I had met this amazing man. God bless you! Thank you for another wonderful blog Deb.


  3. wendylockyerPhotodee
    November 8, 2013

    An amazing man, so very proud to call him a friend. Can’t wait to see you both again x


  4. wendylockyer
    November 8, 2013

    An amazing man, and an amazing achievement. So proud to call him a friend. Can’t wait to see you both again.


  5. debhuntinbrokenhill
    November 8, 2013

    He’s one of the best. Good men are hard to find and we are lucky to have many of them in our family. Look forward to seeing you soon xx


  6. Adele Hughes
    November 13, 2013

    You must have both had a wonderful day Deb. I am always thrilled when people who really deserve it get recognition for all their tireless efforts. Love to meet Clyde one day.


    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      November 13, 2013

      Thanks Adele, it was a great day. I have just been listening to one of the (many) recordings from the visit I made to Roma. Gosh, we laughed a lot! Thankfully you talked a lot too, so lots of material to work with.


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I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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