Alice Springs

"Flynn of the Inland" and the Royal Flying Doctor Service


The Very Reverend John Flynn gave his life to bringing Christian Fellowship to all whose lot was cast in the lonely places of Inland Australia. Vast distances and much forbidding terrain made his task particularly difficult. Many said - impossible! Unusual gifts of vision, faith and courage were needed. John Flynn had those gifts and exercised them to the full. He lived to see his task accomplished.

There could be no more fitting memorial of such an achievement than a shrine, set in the centre of the land whose people he served and portraying the character of the man, his unique vision, and the use he made of new techniques not generally accepted or understood. The designing of such a memorial was a great challenge. This article will attempt to tell how this challenge was accepted by the architect Mr Arthur A. Philpot. A.R.I.B.A., A.R.A.I.A., M.A.P.I.

They who tread softly within his Shrine find that every part of it speaks of:-

" a man sent from God whose name was John."

Having visited the HQ of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia in Alice Springs and listened to a talk on and seen them at their work of today I think I understand just why the man was, and still is, so much appreciated and why the people should wish to remember such a great man in such an appropriate, beautiful building.

Having visited the church only twice I have never forgotten it or him. I often find myself thinking of him and the church when I am sitting quietly thinking of various things I have seen in churches across the world.

The Shrine spoken of above and described as follows is the John Flynn Memorial Church. Alice Springs, which was erected in his memory by The Australian Inland Mission of The Presbyterian Church of Australia. 1956. And a more worthy man would be very difficult to find.

The General Concept and Building of the Memorial Church

The general concept of the church, which stands just a few miles south of the tropic of Capricorn, was built on three ideas. The circle of stones in an oval court and the church uniting them overall. The large oval shape represents a bush clearing on a North - South axis. This can be used for open air services just as Flynn would have taken out in the bush. On each side of the church is a low wall which encircles the outside only of the church and this represents the ring of stones used by Aborigines in their ceremonies.

The church rectangular Nave itself bridges the stone circle protectively and unites with it. The walls are masonry blocks with some faced with marble in white and deep rose colour. Each end of the nave is an annexe, the side walls being formed on the line of the radius of the circle meeting the nave walls and then splaying outwards. (See the diagram).

The walls of the sanctuary are mainly glass punctuated by pale pink marble columns. The main walls of the church which flank the window panels are of white marble and reflect the heat. The windows are surmounted by five pink marble panels on each side of the nave which contain 4 foot square ceramic window grilles. Each of these is backed by open louvres of colour banded glass. On casual observation each panel looks the same but if one examines closely each grille is different. All however have patterns based on many different aspects of John Flynn’s life.

The Symbolism of the Grilles.

Each of the grilles has its own message. When looked at from the forecourt at the east end the first grille represents the spiritual sanctuary of the church and comprises many crosses all interwoven. At the west end is the monogram JF on a background of crosses.

In the central grille, above the entrance, there is a pattern of four monograms continuously turning clockwise. This is to signify the never ending influence of Flynn of the Inland.

The two intermediate grilles also have special significance. The one shown in the picture has J.F. and the Geneva Cross plus four flight symbols diagonally and represents John Flynn’s service to the Inland through nursing homes and the flying doctor.

The other one reminds us of the spiritual boon of the radio transceiver and the pedal generator, and shows a radio symbol flashing diagonally downward from left to right, interwoven with a cross, symbol of the church community and again J.F

The Entrance and the Porch.

Photographs by Peter Fairweather. 19-Aug-1999 to 21-Aug-1999.The large plate glass doors open to the North and it is the only public entrance. The porch is a bridge over the shrine circle and water into the church nave and the glass panels each side of it actually stand free and reach down into the water. The pool has in it some water-lilies gathered from the north. Reminding of Flynn’s saying that:-

"In the Inland, water is life."

and he personally mapped out watering places which helped in the settlement of the Inland.

The East End or Sanctuary.

Photographs by Peter Fairweather. 19-Aug-1999 to 21-Aug-1999.High up in the centre of the east wall, of glowing red sandstone, is the cross. This is made up of many crosses of St Andrew fretted through the wall which lets sunshine pierce through.

The vestry, which is close to the street boundary, is set below pavement level and is further screened by foliage plants which fill the vestry garden.

Below the sandstone east end wall is the Altar or the Holy Table which, if one views it from the west end of the nave, looks just like a small twin engined plane facing you and running up prior to take off. Flanking the altar in front are the pulpit on the left and the lectern on the right. The velvet pulpit fall is richly embroidered with a cross of Iona in gold and fringed with gold thread. It was made in Scotland.

The beautiful font stands on the nave floor in front of the pulpit. The bowl is beautifully turned from the same pink marble as used in the wall panels and is very highly polished. The base is made of bore casing from which springs underground water in the outback and which brings life to the dry land. The cover is of spun silver surmounted by a slender spire.

The louvered grilles high on the side walls permit warm air from just under the insulated roof to escape. This roof has overhanging eaves to protect the walls from the overhead tropical sun.

The plate glass windows of the nave also slide wide open to gather any breeze that there might be. The concrete walling blocks were made of material gained from the nearby river of sand, The Todd River! And made in many different shapes and with pink or white faces which were introduced during manufacture.

The red sandstone was found in the Waterman Ranges after extensive prospecting and a deep quarry was opened up for the first time.

The whole roof materials plus ceiling panels, glass and framing was transported about 1500 miles overland from the south because of the unsuitability of local materials.

The West End Sandstone Wall With Symbolic Decoration Of "The Mantle Of Safety."

Photographs by Peter Fairweather. 19-Aug-1999 to 21-Aug-1999.The west end sandstone wall which has the dedicatory tablet built into it whose legend concludes with :-

"He spreads a ‘Mantle of Safety over Inland Australia"

is embellished with shadowy symbolic paintings akin to some of the types which the Aborigines of the past have left for posterity. The composition broadly represents a St Andrew’s Cross for the Presbyterian Church from which John Flynn and the Australian Inland Mission Grew. The wing plus the emergency stretcher represent the early Flying Medical Service. At the lower left the white Veil and the Bible represent the complex work of the Nursing Sisters in their outposts and looks like the rudder of an aeroplane.

On the top right the circle represents the propeller of an aircraft taking off on a mercy flight. It also has in it much more symbolism than at first suggested. It represents Flynn’s "buckboard steering wheel and his compass too. The hub of these is pierced through the wall and this represents the light that he brought to the world of the Inland. The afternoon sun often shines through this hole onto the east end wall.

The red line meandering across the wall represents the travels that Flynn did as the Patrol Padre and as it is roughly the shape of a camels back it symbolises "the man from Oodnadatta" and the first survey he did of the Inland.

The central zig zag of the pedalled machine symbolises the radio signal for a "resistance" as does the zig zag of each side of the "Rat trap Pedals". This whole item represents the pedalled electricity generator for the radio operation.

All these items which form parts of the "Mantle of Safety."


The Museum.

The museum which used to be in the west end of the church is now located in the Hospital building opposite the church entrance. Amongst many other relevant items it contains the pedalled radio generator set and above it Number one transceiver, in operating position. The morse sending keyboard was soon replaced by voice transmission. There is also a beautiful scale model of the DH50 biplane which inaugurated the Flying Medical Service at Cloncurry. The whole museum gives close contact with Flynn’s ministry. There are many of Flynn’s personal possessions and writings. These items range from his "Academic Hood" to the smoky old quart pot that brewed the tea he loved to share with the mates he met "on the wallaby."

Unfortunately I did not manage to take in the museum as time was at a premium but I intend to next time I visit.


Alice Springs in the Outback or Inland of Northern Territories, Australia, August 1999.

Various memorials to one man "Flynn of the Inland." The Very Rev. Dr John Flynn. O.B.E. D.D., who Founded and ran, with his wife Jean’s support, the Royal Flying Doctor Service from Alice Springs all over the desert inland areas of Central Australia and was the first Superintendent of the Australian Inland Missions.


Photographs by Peter Fairweather. 19-Aug-1999 to 21-Aug-1999. The present Royal Flying Doctor Service H.Q.


Adelaide House in Alice Springs which was designed and built by Flynn of the Inland to be the first hospital in central Australia. This was completed in 1926 and still contains the first attempt at "Air Conditioning" in the outback. Photographs by Peter Fairweather. 19-Aug-1999 to 21-Aug-1999.


Photographs by Peter Fairweather. 19-Aug-1999 to 21-Aug-1999.

Photographs by Peter Fairweather. 19-Aug-1999 to 21-Aug-1999.

The grave of Flynn and his wife Jean located 5 km west of Alice in the shadow & at the foot of Mount Gillen.

Until late 1999 their ashes rested for nearly 50 years beneath this mounted 8 tonne boulder taken from the formation known as The Devil’s Marbles. Unfortunately the Aborigines of the Arrente and Kaytetye Tribes claimed that the boulder had been stolen from The Devil’s Marbles, sacred rocks near Tennant Creek, and claimed and received it back and donated another rock from another Arrente sacred site in the Macdonnell Range in it’s place. The rock and the grave were re-dedicated about a fortnight after we visited.




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