When he moved to Roma, Qld, Father Tom Duncan obtained his pilot’s licence so he could visit parishioners in more remote areas.

Story John Dunn  Photo Katarina Silvester

In 2020, the newly ordained Catholic priest Father Thomas ‘Tom’ Duncan was chatting with the Bishop of Toowoomba, Qld. They were in the middle of an 8-hour, 740km drive to and from St George on a pastoral visit, and agreed there had to be a better way to serve the 500,000sq km Toowoomba Diocese, with its 77,400 Catholics.

The following year, 30-year-old Fr Tom was transferred from Toowoomba to Roma, becoming parish priest of a huge area. Bearing in mind the conversation he’d had with bishop Robert McGuckin, he enthusiastically obtained his pilot’s licence, so that he could cover many of the long-haul journeys in a Piper Cherokee or an Italian-built Tecnam, which he hires from the local aero club. While road travel remains a large part of Fr Tom’s daily diary, he envisages the future involving greater use of aircraft to cover the longer journeys he often makes. “The distances are huge in Queensland, as they are in every area of the outback, so flying will become the most practical way of meeting the requirements of the people out there,” he says. “There is a shortage of priests and there’s likely to be even fewer in the outback in the years ahead so flying is a great help to reach our far-flung people.”

Fr Tom’s base is All Saints at Roma. But he is also priest director at St Columba’s, Mitchell, St Mary’s Wallumbilla, and Immaculate Conception, Surat, as well as looking after former churches at Injune, Yuleba and Jackson. He is also dean of an area including Roma, St George, Cunnamulla, Charleville and Quilpie, plus all the associated smaller communities between.

This story excerpt is from Issue #155

Outback Magazine: June/July 2024