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Nick Denny: Experiences of a Flying Doctor

Last Monday’s talk on the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (RFDS) was a fascinating tour de force by Dr Nick Denny (SU 1965-69).

Many experts speaking about their early professional lives fall into the twin traps of talking too much about themselves, or going into excessive technical detail which their lay audience finds tedious.

Nick Denny masterfully avoided both these hazards, and successfully presented a webinar which set the scene for his tour of duty in Western Australia and then gave us a brief but succinct history of the RFDS from its creation as the brainchild of the Rev John Flynn in 1928. He mentioned key figures in the RFDS’ early history, including Alfred Traeger who set up the vital radio network together with foot-operated charging systems; and Dr Pete Simpson, photographed with the de Havilland DH 50 in which he flew in the early days.

Nick then talked about his own experiences in the late 1970s, which included delivering a baby in the confined space of a PA-31 aircraft when airborne; surviving a flight in a major tropical storm; and removing a spear from an Aboriginal’s stomach – and provided us with the evidence of the latter! Even though he was a young and relatively newly qualified doctor, Nick had to deal with a variety of often serious medical conditions, without the ability to telephone senior colleagues for advice as he would have been able to do in the NHS.

Nick’s experiences were set against a very clear and concise description of the services that the RFDS provides, together with slides of many of the locations where he worked, seen from both the ground and the air.

Well over 100 OMs and others from a wide range of age groups watched the talk, with at least 2 OMs with OM daughters, including Nick and Catherine Denny.

Nick Denny’s relaxed and slightly diffident style played down what must have been a very demanding job for an inexperienced GP. When at MC, we were taught to be professional in whatever we did, but modest with it. In his excellent talk, Nick Denny demonstrated these traits to perfection.

Jimmy James (CO 1965-70)