This year Frontier Services marks 100 proud years of providing Reverend John Flynn’s famous ‘mantle of safety’ to the outback.

Story By Annabelle Brayley

Most Australians know a little of the history of the Australian Inland Mission (AIM) and its founder, Reverend John Flynn, if for no other reason than that his profile graces one side of our $20 note. What many won’t know is that John Flynn was a keen photographer. On August 10 the National Library of Australia will stage a display of images to commemorate 100 years of the AIM.
The acting director of exhibitions at the National Library, Justine Van Mourik, says the display is a testament to the work of the AIM (called Frontier Services since 1977 when the Uniting Church was established in Australia). “This display showcases the incredible effort of these dedicated missionaries and chronicles the hardships they had to endure,” Justine says.
About half of the 4400 glass slides, glass negatives and lantern slides in the AIM collection in the archives at the National Library were taken by Flynn. He never missed an opportunity to talk about the people of the outback and the work that needed to be done to support them, using photographs to encourage others to help create and fund his famous “mantle of safety”.
Flynn himself was inspired by the romantic stories of explorers, adventurers and pastoralists he’d heard about while growing up and was fascinated by the vast region of Australia known as “the dead heart”. Ordained into the Presbyterian Ministry in 1911, he immediately volunteered to go to Beltana in the northern Flinders Ranges, SA, to work at the Smith of Dunesk Mission, a parish that stretched into the very northern reaches of the state. His brief was to facilitate the opening of Australia’s first bush hospital, the Rolland Nursing Home in Oodnadatta, a project accomplished by the end of that year.
Early the following year, Flynn travelled throughout central Australia to research the circumstances of Aborigines and European settlers who lived there. He was particularly interested in the future of white settlers, admiring those who recognised the opportunities for development in the heartland of the fledgling nation. He was appalled by the lack of support and services they received and equally determined to bridge at least some of the gaps.
When Flynn’s report, entitled Northern Territory and Central Australia – A Call to the Church, was presented to the Presbyterian Church, it responded promptly by announcing the formation of the AIM and appointing Flynn as superintendent.

This story excerpt is from Issue #84

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2012