The prayer of the camel man

John Flynn was nicknamed the camel man, which is rather ironic, because he was not very fond of camels. It was nothing personal. Camels themselves were OK. It was just that they were very slow.

John was a minister of an Australian outback parish of some 3,200,000 square kilometres (approximately 1,236,000 square miles).

It took John an awfully long time to get around his parish on a camel. Worse than this, it took sick people in his parish a long time to get to a doctor. More often than not, injured people just never made it.

This isolation affected John a lot, especially when children died because help was so far away. Over the eighteen years he looked after people in the outback, John Flynn formed a brilliant, outrageous (a lot said crazy!) idea – the creation of a flying doctor service.

It was a simple idea but, on paper, it seemed totally unrealistic. There were three critical problems with John Flynn’s idea-money, staff and communications.

Money: He could hardly afford a camel let alone an aeroplane.

Staff: He would have to find the doctors, nurses and a pilot prepared to live and work in outback Australia.

Communications: Most critically, he would have to invent a cheap way for outback stations to communicate with the flying doctor service. There was no point in having a doctor in Alice Springs if the people in Birdsville couldn’t contact him.

Telegraph and radio were available but the expense of providing these services to every outback station was prohibitive. There would be no flying doctors until there was a new way to communicate.

But John Flynn was not deterred by problems. He seemed to thrive on them. He was a great believer in the philosophy that  “whatever a person dares to do, that he can, if he thinks long  enough, wills sincerely and works hard enough.”

So he put his heart, soul and back into creating the world’s first flying doctor service. John Flynn talked to anyone who would put listen about his plans. He spoke to individuals and he spoke to crowds.

A lot of people dismissed him as a dreamer, a fool with no hope of succeeding.

But some did listen. One of those was Hudson Fysh, one of the founders of Qantas. He eventually leased a plane to Flynn so that the Flying Doctors could commence.

Hugh McKay, the inventor and founder of Harvester Farm Machinery, listened. He financially supported the Flying Doctors while he was alive and after his death via his estate. Hundreds and thousands of ordinary Aussie battlers listened to John Flynn and donated a quid (two dollars) here and there to make the Flying Doctors a reality.

John’s enthusiasm for the Flying Doctors rubbed off on Arthur Traeger, a young electrical engineer. Arthur experimented for years trying to find a cheap, easy way for outback stations to communicate across large distances.

He eventually came up with a wheel-less bike. This was a pedal transceiver that allowed people to generate power and send or receive morse code at the same time. It was an ingenious solution. And it was cheap!

Although he was up against enormous odds, John Flynn pulled it off. The idea, that seemed so impractical to so many for so long, became a reality.

John Flynn was pre-eminent at solving difficult problems. He was never cowered by them. He never ducked, weaved or retreated. He felt that a tough problem stretched a person. He welcomed problems because the tussle made him all the stronger.

John Flynn, the camel man, had a simple prayer. “It is better”, he said, “not to pray for tasks equal to your powers. Instead, pray for powers equal to your task.”

extract from “Stand on the Shoulders of Giants” Gerard Stevenson

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2 thoughts on “The prayer of the camel man

  • Henry Mydlarz
    22/11/2016 at 6:01 am
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    I read “The Prayer of the Camel Man”, Gerard. Very inspirational! I pray that you continue to have and enhance the powers you have for the many tasks that await you.

    Henry

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