Flynn of the Inland by Ion (Jack) Idriess is a book I’ve used in the past for high school. I’ll be using it again next year as an Australian Biography substitute in Ambleside Online Year 10. This book reflects views on race that were acceptable for the time in which it was written but would be offensive now so I’ve saved it for Year 10 but it would be suitable as a read aloud for around age 13 years and up with some editing.
The book has 306 pages and contains black and white photographs and also maps in the front and back – I love a book with maps!
Ion L. Idriess (1890-1979) was Australia’s best selling author during the 1930’s to the 1950’s. A prolific and popular writer, he drew upon his diverse life experiences which included his familiarity with the Australian bush and active service during WWI to craft his narratives. His books were so popular that they sold in the millions even during the Great Depression. Unfortunately his work is overlooked by modern critics and his contributions to Australian literature largely ignored.
Idriess was a man who obviously knew the bush and this knowledge adds authenticity to this book.
Flynn of the Inland is drama, romance, and history; a real adventure filled with wonderful characters and an unconventional protagonist who not only refused to let go of his dream but inspired others to help him make his ‘impossible’ dream a reality.
John Flynn (1880-1951) was an Australian Presbyterian minister who founded the Australian Inland Mission (somewhat of a misnomer as it included large areas around the coast) and pioneered the world’s first aerial medical service (aerial ambulance) now known as the Royal Flying Doctor Service. A visionary, but also a very practical man, he pursued his dream against all odds – and the odds were indeed significant!
Idriess wrote Flynn of the Inland in order that the people of Australia could learn about the work of the Australian Inland Mission. His purpose was not to write a history of the work but to tell ‘a true story.’
There is a certain quality to his writing that allows the reader to feel an emotional attachment to the book’s characters. We travel with John Flynn on his solitary camel rides into the harsh and unforgiving outback, where he often went a fortnight without seeing a single soul.
He meets the isolated residents and hears the stories of hardship and tragedy – injuries that could have been treated easily enough with medical assistance but proved fatal from lack of earlier intervention; a young child who dies in his mother’s arms before she reaches help; women having to travel great distances to give birth.
One harrowing situation Flynn hears about is that of young Darcy who was thrown from his horse while mustering in the heart of the Kimberleys. Seriously injured, his friends harnessed up a buggy and the young man endured a dreadful ride to Hall’s Creek three hundred miles away to Mr Tuckett, the nearest person possessing some medical knowledge. But Darcy’s injuries were beyond his skill.
The nearest doctor was two hundred miles away and the patient wouldn’t have stood the drive. The only option was for Tuckett to operate under instructions via telegraph. He had no instruments or anaesthetic but it was Darcy’s only chance. Incredibly, the operation proved successful but complications set in and it became obvious that he would die unless he received specialist medical attention. Darcy’s two brothers performed an incredible feat by racing to Derby to pick up the specialist who was arriving by steamer. After over twelve days of travel the doctor arrived at Hall’s Creek only to find his patient had died the day before.
Flynn was the type of man who could befriend hardened bushmen. They were attracted to Flynn’s ‘muscular Christianity’ and were surprised when he turned up out of nowhere to relay a message, deliver quinine to a feverish man, or conduct a christening.
“It was a giant project, Flynn’s dream. Nothing less than to establish help, communication, and transport throughout two-thirds of a continent, two million square miles peopled by an isolated few having no political voice…His dream hinged on the cradle. First ensure that every inland woman could have her baby and her own life with it. Then educate those children, annihilate loneliness, and bring a feeling of security to the fathers, and see that all had that spiritual companionship which smooths the path of life.”
It took twelve years of travelling and planning for Flynn’s dream to take shape. His friends often exclaimed in exasperation that he was ten, twenty, fifty years before the times but he never gave up. He fired the first shot and his dream awakened the sympathetic interest of a few people in two Australian cities and then his ideas were embraced by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. His dreams began to take on flesh.
“From his very first dream right through the years Flynn fought a long flight, a dogged fight; but no one, in bush or city, ever saw him without a smile. There were times when he knew weariness of body and bitterness of heart. No one else knew.”
It wasn’t only medical services that were required. A means of reliable communication also needed to be provided and the sheer technical challenges involved were enormous. There’s a story within a story here – the invention of a ‘baby transmitter.’
“The machine could be easily carried, easily installed: it could be easily mastered by the bush mother. It was worked by pedal. The generator was simplicity itself and a marvel of efficiency. It could be phoned up from any mother station, but transmitted its own messages by Morse.”
Radio Rescue is a beautiful picture book that tells this story and explores the relationship between the John Flynn and Alf Traeger as they worked together on the idea of providing a form of communication for people in isolated areas. Enjoyable for both children and adults.
John Flynn is commemorated on the Australian $20 banknote:
Information about Ion Idriess.
Timeline of the life of John Flynn
The Royal Flying Doctor Service
My choice for #6 in the Christian Greats Challenge: A Missionary Biography or A Biography of a Prominent Christian who lived any time between 1500 A.D to 1950 A.D
8 thoughts on “Ambleside Online Year 10: an Australian Biography – Flynn of the Inland by Ion L. Idriess (1932)”
The book sounds enjoyable and informative. I think that your strategy regarding books with ideas that we recognize as bad in modern times makes sense. Young people need to look at bad ideas, even those of the past, and evaluate and be critical of these ideas. Of course the young people need to be ready to do this.
Hi Brian, I've become more comfortable with this over the years as I've seen how these types of issues offer opportunities to address ideas that we don't always agree with. It's sad that people shout down others who have different ideas rather than be willing to listen and discuss.
This sounds like a great book! I am going to look up Flynn on Amazon and eBay. Maybe I'll luck out and find a cheap copy. Australia is still patiently waiting in my bucket of places I hope to see before I die.
Hi Sharon, most of his books are in print so I don’t think it would be too hard to find a reasonably priced copy 2nd hand.
Lovely edition of that book Carol! I too love books with maps.It is a challenging thing to be reading books with politically incorrect aspects but rich in history and literary value. I have picked up some children's picture books and questioned myself on how well they would be received because of some innocuous content that would be looked at unfavourably!! Always a point for discussion.Uni exams are finished for some and eldest is visiting his grandmother and taking her on a day trip to Uralla. There is a great bookshop Burnets Books there that specialises in Idriess books.
Hi Margaret, C.S Lewis has some wise things to say about that – every generation has their blindspots & it’s important to read d books because if that. It’s easy for us to point out those of previous generations. I often wonder what future generations will say about our blindspots! Our second youngest has just had his last uni exam for the year. X
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