Cairns, Friday - On Monday my good mate Nigel Milan, most recently chief executive of SBS, takes up a new post as CEO of Australia's legendary Royal Flying Doctor Service.  Spurred on by his new role, Ingrid and I today visited the Cairns RFDS base, which incorporates a small and rather disorganised museum. But ,through a door at the back, was a genuine article - a pensioned off RFDS Beechcraft Queen Air.

Beachcraft_queenair_2_1 When these beautiful aircraft were introduced to New Guinea in the 1960s, we who were conditioned to travelling in cramped Cessna 180s and old, slow and shaky single-engined Otters, looked upon them with awe. Here was remote aviation at its most modern. The Queen Air's also performed admirable service bringing the Flying Doctors to the injured and ill in the isolated communities of the Australian outback.

Ingrid and I are now ensconced in the Cairns International Hotel where, from our 16th Floor eerie, we have an eagle's eye view of Trinity wharf. From here, tomorrow afternoon, we'll be departing for Papua New Guinea on MY Orion . The weather in tropical north Queensland is unseasonal - with blustery storms sweeping along the coast even as bushfires ravage Tasmania and Adelaide's announced  its toughest water restrictions ever. Papua ho! as we once might have said.

Rfds_cairns_base_1Briefly back to Nigel Milan and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which was started by the famed Flynn of the Inland [Rev Dr John Flynn] around the time of World War 2. For many years now Nigel has not only been a successful broadcasting executive but unpaid chairman of the Fred Hollows Foundation, which funds projects in many developing countries to reverse the devastating impacts of blindness. I believe the RFDS has the right man for the job and that we'll be hearing much more about this iconic Aussie organisation now Nigel is in charge.


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