FOR eight days, an enthusiastic troop of four-wheel drives and vintage cars meandered their way across the red dirt of the Australian outback to raise funds for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
The party of 23 competitive cars, 10 four-wheel-drives and five support vehicles departed from Adelaide on July 22 on the Ozbash Outback Odyssey, headed for Hamilton Island, Qld.
The trip was full of challenges, fun and fundraising, concluding with a dinner and charity auction at its island destination on July 29.
Ozbash chairman and event participant Keith Finch said $146,000 was raised for the RFDS, adding to the $73,000 raised in 2014 and $123,000 raised in 2015.
Keith said the Odyssey also raised $25,000 for Power Community, an organisation created by the Port Adelaide Football Club to plan and deliver community programs in SA and the NT.
The Ozbash chairman, who has embarked on the Odyssey every year since 1994, said there was great camaraderie among the group and he hoped the event would be just as successful in 2017.
It was the third year the event had been a major sponsor of the RFDS and for the first time, the RFDS entered its own car.
RFDS Central Operations marketing and public relations general manager Charlie Paterson was one of four RFDS representatives in car 1928 – a 1970 Ford Fairlane named after the year the service was founded by Reverend John Flynn.
“We made a decision, at a personal level, to get involved with the event and support an event that’s supporting the RFDS,” he said.
“We also provided medical support as part of our support of the event.
“The best way to see Australia is to drive it and we’re looking at it in its full glory because of the rain.”
Charlie said the cars had been forced to change route every day due to floodwaters, but it did nothing to dampen morale with gumboot-throwing, kayaking and fundraising ‘roadblocks’ causing much amusement and raising valuable money.
“The fundraising we (RFDS) do is just as vital as the services we provide because we rely on donations and the support of the community to meet the shortfall in our operational funding,” he said.
“The proceeds from this event will go towards our capital fund for the replacement of our medically-equipped aircraft.”
Joining Charlie in the RFDS Ozbash car were Tom Adams, Langhorne Creek, Will Ness, Strathalbyn, and Rob Dawes, Adelaide.
The group of participants, which included grapegrowers, farmers and animal health professionals, made stopovers at Silverton and Tibooburra, NSW, and Quilpie, Stonehenge, Longreach, Prairie and Collinsville, Qld.
Visiting various stations and roadhouses for lunches and dinners, they heard plenty of stories illustrating the importance of the RFDS.
“Every day somebody walked up, put money in the tin and said ‘if it wasn’t for the flying doctor, I wouldn’t be here’,” Charlie said.
“As you’d expect driving through some of the most remote parts of Australia, where the RFDS is a lifeblood, we met people every day and they shared their stories.”
One such story was that of Leroy Henderson, who the group met at Packsaddle Roadhouse, NSW.
Leroy lost his arm after a quad-carrier rollover seven months ago, but credited the RFDS with saving his life.
Charlie said the trip had achieved far more than the monetary figure raised.
“It’s not only raising money, it’s also engaging participants from the city and getting them to fall in love with the RFDS, and appreciate how much people rely on the RFDS out in rural and remote areas,” he said.
“Because we’re going through some remote communities, we have events on each night, so we’re also leaving money in the towns we go through.”
The RFDS had humble beginnings, with inaugural pilot Arthur Affleck taking off from Cloncurry on May 17, 1928, in a single-engine, timber and fabric bi-plane with Australia’s first flying doctor – Kenyon St Vincent Welch.
Today, RFDS Central Operations has 15 Pilatus PC-12 aircraft – a single-engine turboprop passenger and cargo model – 11 of which are medically equipped.
“Nationally we have 66 aircraft and on average, we conduct 104 aeromedical evacuations across Australia every day, and 22 of those are throughout SA and NT,” Charlie said.
“The services we provide are vital to those who work, live and travel in rural and remote Australia.
“In SA we provide 24/7 emergency aeromedical evacuations, but we also provide essential primary healthcare to people living in remote areas.”
Charlie said primary healthcare included GP clinics, community health nurse clinics, a 24/7 telehealth service and additional health services like an oral health program, where final year University of Adelaide dental students provide dental services to remote communities such as Marla and Mungerannie.
Every 20 minutes somewhere in SA, the RFDS is assisting someone who is in need of medical care or treatment.