Paper Money

An Australian pioneer

The Rev. John Flynn, who appears on the back of an Australian $20 note, spearheaded the founding in 1928 of the Aerial Medical Service, operating today under the name Royal Flying Doctor Service. Rev. Flynn used air ambulances, radio, wireless sets and camels to improve the lives of those living in the vast thinly populated areas of Australia.

Image courtesy of Wendell Wolka.

What do air ambulances, pedal-powered wireless sets, and camels have in common?

Well, all three were utilized by the Rev. John Flynn to improve the spiritual lives and health of the people living in the vast thinly populated areas of Australia.

Born in 1880 in a remote gold rush area of Australia, about 200 kilometers northwest of Melbourne, Flynn, who was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1911, recognized and had an appreciation for the needs of people in the Outback.

After making a study of those needs in 1912, he eagerly chose to embrace new technologies and innovations to accelerate the development of his vision.

In 1917, the Rev. Flynn was considering the use of aircraft and wireless radios to connect the scattered places of human habitation and began raising funds to that end.

Finally in 1928, the first flight of the Aerial Medical Service occurred, using a leased aircraft from QANTAS named appropriately enough Victory.

With the cooperation of both his church and interested politicians, the air ambulance service went national in 1934 under the name of the Australian Aerial Medical Service, gradually becoming a nationwide network of bases.

Flynn remained the service’s public face and a principal fundraiser throughout his life.

Today, the service remains, known as the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia.

Radio also played an important part in communication and here too, the Rev. Flynn was involved. He collaborated with Alfred Traeger in 1929 to begin the installation of pedal-powered wireless sets at the medical bases, eventually creating what was a modern communications network.

Never shy about trying the unusual and unconventional, the Rev. Flynn even purchased five camels in 1913 for his “Patrol Padres,” who undertook mission work throughout central Australia.

Flynn passed away in 1951 and is today remembered as a true Australian pioneer who improved the lot of many isolated Australian communities through his extensive efforts.

The note itself is readily available at a reasonable price and is one of Australia’s series of colorful notes printed on a long-lasting polymer (“plastic”) substrate.

It’s a great note with a great story!

Wendell Wolka has been a paper money collector and educator for more than 40 years. If you have questions or suggestions, you can reach him by email at

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