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Allan Robert Stanley Vickers (1901–1967)

by Michael J. Richards

This article was published:

Allan Robert Stanley Vickers (1901-1967), flying doctor, was born on 3 June 1901 at Caniambo, Euroa, Victoria, son of Robert Vickers, farmer, and his wife Jessie Scott, née Louden. His Victorian-born parents later ran a store near Albury, New South Wales. Allan was educated at Albury High School and the University of Sydney (M.B., 1926), but his studies were broken by the chronic asthma that persisted for the rest of his life. Following a period as resident medical officer at Albury Hospital and as general practitioner at Queanbeyan, he worked briefly in a tuberculosis sanatorium at Waterfall.

With the prompting of Rev. John Flynn, Vickers joined the Aerial Medical Service of the Presbyterian Australian Inland Mission and in 1931-34 was medical superintendent at Cloncurry, North Queensland. In hazardous flights to outback locations which lacked proper landing facilities, Vickers averaged 25,000 miles (40,233 km) a year in his de Havilland 50 cabin biplane (DH50) which was equipped with a battery-operated portable transmitter. After financial support for the mission had been eroded by the Depression, in 1933 he began a publicity and fund-raising drive that led to the formation of an independent body, the National Aerial Medical Service of Australia. On 1 February 1934 he married Lilias Hinah Ella Whitman at St Andrew's Anglican Church, Cloncurry. That month he resigned from the A.I.M.

Resident medical officer (1934-35) at Broome, Western Australia, Vickers next established that State's first flying doctor base at Port Hedland. He saw its role as providing preventive and routine medicine, rather than merely emergency services. In charge of the two hospitals at Port Hedland and another at Marble Bar, he was also quarantine officer, resident magistrate, protector of Aborigines, mining warden and inspector of fisheries. During World War II Lieutenant-Colonel Vickers was commanding officer (1939-43) of the 110th Australian General Hospital, Perth, and a councillor and vice-president of the Western Australian section of the National Aerial Medical Service. He was recalled by the Queensland section of what was, after 1942, the Flying Doctor Service, and established its second base at Charleville in 1943: he was chief medical officer there in 1951-54. As a Nuffield fellow in 1954, he canvassed in England for the development of the flying doctor service on a British Commonwealth basis. Back in Australia he was appointed medical superintendent and supervisor of bases in Queensland.

A Freemason and a commander of the Order of St John of Jerusalem (1946), Vickers was appointed O.B.E. in 1951 and C.M.G. in 1955. He became medical consultant to the federal council of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia in 1964. Elder statesman of the movement at his retirement in 1966, Vickers had employed all his tenacity, resilience and force of character in its service. His quiet and self-effacing manner was belied by deep-set 'eager and vivacious' eyes. Returning as ship's doctor from a voyage to England, Vickers died of heart disease aboard the Imperial Star off Cape Town on 30 October 1967. His ashes were scattered from a R.F.D.S. plane over Cloncurry; his wife and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Bilton et al, The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (Syd, 1961)
  • W. S. McPheat, John Flynn (Lond, 1963)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 6 Jan 1951, p 51, 4 May 1968, p 5
  • M. J. Richards, Allan Vickers, Flying Doctor (M.A. thesis, James Cook University, 1979)
  • A. R. Vickers papers (National Library of Australia)
  • C. Duguid papers (National Library of Australia)
  • J. Flynn papers (National Library of Australia)
  • G. Simpson papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Australian Inland Mission papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Michael J. Richards, 'Vickers, Allan Robert Stanley (1901–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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