Riding in the hot seat during a bush emergency

BUSH WARRIOR: Barbara Camp (right) on Kalyeeda Station.
BUSH WARRIOR: Barbara Camp (right) on Kalyeeda Station. Contributed

Story courtesy of

IT IS 6.04am and I am woken at Kalyeeda Station to the sound of my mobile buzzing into life next to my ear:

"Hello, Barbara. We've been tasked. Would you like to come flying?"

Well, ask a girl a silly question! Of course I do!

In every station and remote outpost in Australia there is a large, green locked box with RFDS stamped on the top of it. It's a box we all hope not to have to use, but when you are so far from the nearest hospital and live in a world full of dangerous machinery, unforgiving flora and fauna and - let's be honest - sometimes rather silly accidents, it's a box we are all familiar with.

In here is stored a range of medical supplies ranging from triangular bandages to strictly controlled vials of morphine and everything in between.

Printed on the lid of that big green box is the number for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. This box and that number is the first line of defence for health emergencies in the bush.

In my time in the Kimberley I've had a fair bit of contact with this iconic and essential service. Sometimes it can be something minor.

I've woken in the night to find my hay fever has progressed to uncontrollably itchy hives. Time to call the RFDS. Not a condition meriting a visit certainly, but the doctors will diagnose you over the phone and walk you through the box and follow up on your care.

Of course, sometimes it's a bit more serious. Some of my scariest days have involved motorbike stacks, horse and rider falls and car accidents. I will never forget standing next to my good friend on the back of the bullcatcher and watching him lose his balance and fall off to be run over by the trailer we were towing.

A little bit of bush bandaging had his broken leg splinted to canoe paddles and transported to the airstrip on the back of an old door to meet the RFDS plane.

Now I am experiencing life from the other side of the stretcher. As part of my training as a student nurse I am taking a rotation with the RFDS in Port Hedland.

WA is a big state, but the only tertiary hospitals capable of acute problems requiring specialised surgery or critical care units are in Perth.

Even to get to a local hospital can take hours down a rough, bumpy dirt road. Sometimes help just can't get there fast enough. That's what the Royal Flying Doctors are all about.

There are 14 PC-12 planes and one jet based around WA that are there to provide medical services to the most remote areas.

This goes from flying out regularly to organised GP clinics in remote communities, to the 24/7 on-call doctor, nurse and pilot team, who will perform remote retrievals for ill people across the bush and transfer the acute patients from smaller regional hospitals to Perth for specialised treatment.

Imagine this - in Port Hedland a phone is ringing. It's another Priority 1 call, so the team has an hour to assemble their equipment and get in the air. A grader driver on a station has got chest pain and he's going grey and struggling to breathe.

Even as the plane is being loaded the doctor is on the phone talking to the fellas looking after him and asking the important questions.

The doctor will be directing the station people on how to sit old Bob and what drugs to get out of the big green RFDS box. When the plane arrives, he's immediately put onto oxygen and cannulas are pushed into his veins to deliver him the medications he needs to ease the strain on his damaged heart.

This is just an example of what the RFDS might experience, because there is no such thing as a typical day in their job.

Like station life, this is not a 9-5 job. I was warned on day one to take a bag of essentials with me because you never know where you might end up.

I wish I had taken that advice seriously as I am writing this at midnight from a faceless hotel in Perth where all I have is my empty lunchbox, the scrubs I'm standing up in and a hi-viz vest. Let me tell you it's a damn sight colder in Perth than it was in Hedland this morning when we loaded the plane to pick up a man with suspected appendicitis at a remote indigenous community to transport him to Karratha hospital. From there we have been tasked, re-directed mid-flight and sent here, there and everywhere.

Since this morning I've been off the plane at two mine sites and Onslow airstrip.

We were supposed to have a meet at RFDS Meekathara but a Priority 1 diversion for a broken pelvis caused us to miss them.

We were at work today for 14 hours and nearly eight of them were spent in the air. Strict guidelines protect the RFDS crew from fatigue and, except in exceptional circumstances, the pilots can only fly for eight hours. That means we're grounded in Perth for the night.

But who could get sick of a job where as you work to help people in the most dire of circumstances you also get this view from your office window? It's all about the flying.

Fast facts

What: Kalyeeda Station

Managers/owners: Kalyeeda is a family owned and run station headed by Peter and Cheryl Camp who have owned the property for nearly 20 years.

Region: Kalyeeda is found between the Fitzroy River and the Great Sandy Desert in the West Kimberley of WA.

Nearest town: Derby is our closest town - about 250kms away. On a good road in the dry season this will take two hours drive on dirt roads and a further hour on the bitumen. In the wet season when the Fitzroy River is up we have to take a different route to avoid the flooded crossing. It can take more than four hours drive if we can get out at all.

Nearest roadhouse: Willare Bridge roadhouse is 190Km from the homestead.

Number of cattle: We run about 6,500 cattle over all. About 2,500 of these are our breeder cows that are mainly the tropically bred Brahman cows. We then cross Droughtmaster bulls over these to produce calves that are more versatile for different markets and have a bit of hybrid vigour.

Number of staff: This varies seasonally. In the wet season there are periods of time where there will only be a couple of people. In the dry, Kalyeeda comes alive with a full crew. There can be up to 8 on the stock crew, plus mechanics, bore runners, cooks and general helpers. It's not uncommon for the station cook to have to cater for 15-20 people.

Size of station: 122,000 ha (300,000 acres).

How often and how the mail is delivered: We get mail once a week on the mail plane which flies onto our strip about 1km from the homestead

How often and how the stores shopping is done: We usually have someone coming or going from town every two weeks to a month or so.

How far off the bitumen are you? About 150kms.

Kalyeeda Station is in WA.
Kalyeeda Station is in WA.

Topics:  central station royal flying doctors rural western australia

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