Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Dicks, Robin Elizabeth (1940–1975)

by Julie Lewis

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Robin Elizabeth Dicks (1940-1975), nurse and aviatrix, was born on 8 September 1940 at Subiaco, Perth, second daughter of Horace (Horatio) Clive Miller, an aeronautical engineer from Victoria, and his Adelaide-born wife (Dame) Mary Gertrude, daughter of M. P. Durack. Educated at Loreto Convent, Nedlands, Robin trained at Royal Perth Hospital and graduated in 1962 with the State nurses' medical prize. By 1964 she was a triple-certificated nurse at St Anne's Hospital, Mount Lawley. With the encouragement of Dr Harold Dicks (d.1987), honorary president of the Western Australia branch of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia, in 1966 she upgraded her private pilot's licence (1962) to a commercial one.

In 1967 Sabin oral vaccine replaced the Salk vaccine for immunization against poliomyelitis in Western Australia. Sister Miller obtained permission from the Department of Health to carry out a programme in the North and North-West. She borrowed money to buy a Cessna 182 and, on 22 May 1967, began a series of flights which took her to remote areas, many of them occupied by Aboriginal communities. Because the Sabin vaccine was administered on sugar cubes by a woman emerging alone from a small aircraft, Aboriginal children called her 'the tchooger bird lady'. In November 1967 Dicks asked Miller to co-pilot a Beechcraft Baron from Oakland, California, United States of America, to Perth for the R.F.D.S. Granted temporary leave from the immunization project, she undertook what was to be the first of nine ferry-trips during her career. In 1968, flying solo, she brought a single-engined Horizon from Paris to Perth. She completed the immunization programme in October 1969, after administering over 37,000 doses of vaccine and flying 43,000 miles (69,200 km).

That year Miller was awarded a diploma of merit by the Associazione Nazionale Infermieri, Mantova, Italy; in 1970 she received the Nancy Bird (Walton) award as Australia's woman pilot of the year. Replacing her Cessna with a Mooney Mark 21 and obtaining a first-class instrument rating, she regularly flew aircraft for the R.F.D.S., despite the initial hostility of male doctors. She was always on call and flew in all types of weather, responding to a range of emergencies and coping with difficult or frightened patients. Tall, fair and elegant, she was conscientious, cheerful and popular. Reacting to those who expected her to don men's clothing, she wore skirts rather than trousers on her flights. Her book, Flying Nurse (1971), provided a lively account of her career.

Robin Miller married the recently divorced Harold Dicks on 4 April 1973 in the registrar's office, Canberra. That year she and Rosemary de Pierres competed in the Powder Puff 'Derby', a trans-America race for female pilots. In May 1974 Robin had a melanoma removed from her thigh. She died of cancer on 7 December 1975 in South Perth and was buried with Catholic rites in Broome cemetery; she had no children. In 1976 she was posthumously awarded the Paul Tissandier diploma by the Fédération Aeronautique Internationale and the Brabazon cup by the Women Pilots' Association of Great Britain. A representation of her Mooney aircraft was unveiled at Jandakot airport, Perth, on 20 May 1978. Harold compiled Sugarbird Lady (1979) from Robin's manuscript and diaries.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Popham (ed), Reflections (Perth, 1978)
  • Australian Medical Association (Western Australia), AMA Branch News, Nov 1987
  • Skywest Airlines Pty Ltd, Destinations, May-June 1991
  • Age (Melbourne), 5 Mar 1966, 10 Oct 1969
  • Herald (Melbourne), 18 Apr, 13 Dec 1968, 9 Apr, 18 July 1973
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 8 Dec 1975
  • West Australian, 8 Dec 1975
  • R. Miller [Dicks] diaries and Mary Durack diaries (held by the executors of Dame Mary Durack's estate, Perth)
  • private information.

Citation details

Julie Lewis, 'Dicks, Robin Elizabeth (1940–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dicks-robin-elizabeth-10016/text17655, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 19 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018