July 26 – Broken Hill Royal Flying Doctors, City Council and Essential Water

First on the agenda for July 26, 2011 we traveled to Broken Hill Base where the Royal Flying Doctor Service is located.  The Royal Flying Doctor Service provides 24 hour emergency retrieval and 24 hour telephone and radio  GP consultations (1).


It was started by John Flynn, who is featured on the twenty-dollar bill, 82 years ago.   Eighty percent of Australia is covered by RFDS.  RFDS is 2/3 government-funded, but that is only the operating costs the rest is fundraising and donations.  Broken Hill is 1 of 21 base RFDS, but Broken Hill is the only one with dental services. It is staffed with eight doctors, six flight nurses, five pilots, five engineers, a dentist, a medical secretary, and 23 administrative staff.  This service provides coverage for approximately 640,000 square kilometers of Australia, which includes west NSW, southwest QLD and eastern and northern South Australia (1).  Broken Hill RFDS provides an ambulance service for a 100 kilometer radius.  They are equipped with four plans each of which cost eight million, six million for the plane itself and another 2 million for the extra facilities needed.  Broken Hill RFDS provides a specialist clinic three times a year and also has clinic runs Monday thru Friday from 7am to 7pm.  The main goal of RFDS is to aid those in need of emergency medical assistance and also improving accessibility of health care services.

This is three out of the four planes at Broken Hill RFDS

This is a medicine box provided by RDF

After that we went to the Broken Hill City Council.  The city of Broken Hill is home to one of the richest lead, iron, and silver deposits.  One hundred and thirty million tons of ore have been mined in Broken Hill.  It is called a “Living Museum” because the majority of the city is historical instead of just one building.  The city’s population is around 20,000 people, which is a number they want to keep around.  The city is about 179 square kilometers, which is home to many resources including mining, tourism and heritage.  The city receives around 300,000 tourists per year for mining and service industry.  The minimum temperature of Broken Hill is around 40.64°F and the maximum temperature is around 91.58°F.  The average annual rainfall is about 9.56 inches.  Broken Hill is a semi-desert area and has experienced many problems with water evaporation.  The water is supplied by the Darling River and is managed by Essential Water.  There are currently no water restrictions in place, but there has been in the past due to long periods of drought.  The city realized the need to conserve water and even after the water restrictions were taken off they only use half of the amount available for extraction.  The city council consists of ten council members including the directly elected mayor and they staff 237 permanent employees.  They continue to work with the community to maintain the character.

The group at Essential Water Treatment Plant

After speaking with the City Council we went over to Essential Water.  They provide water to the city of Broken Hill.  They receive 20-25% water from reservoirs and the rest from the Darling River.  The piping from the river is above ground with about six pumping stations along the way.  They try to use gravity whenever possible to cut back on energy.  Other ways they save energy is by using their electric pumps in the offset hours and educating the public.  Essential Water hosted a program that taught the public about saving water where they gave away water efficient shower and sprinkler heads.

This water tank is over 100 years old and is still in use today

The treatment process consists of first adding aluminum sulphate, then sedimentation process, then sand and carbon filtration, and then last are the disinfectants.  Aluminum sulphate is commonly called alum, which is added to the water at a rate of about 100 parts per million.  Once it is mixed into the water the alum starts attracting the suspended material making them fall to the bottom also known as sedimentation.  After this the water passes through the sand and carbon filters where the remaining fine materials are filtered out.  The filters are backwashed removing the caught materials every 24 hours.  After the filtration process the water is palatable, but not potable.  Palatable means free of taste and smell, while potable means safe to drink.  To make the water potable disinfectants are used.  The first disinfectant is chlorine which kills bacteria.  Lime is another disinfection added to control the pH levels.  UV disinfection is used to get rid of the cloudy color from the river water.  Fluorine is also used to reduce dental decay.  In most cases the water is ready after the disinfection process, unless there are high salinity levels.  Reverse osmosis pushes water through a membrane from an area of high concentration to a low concentration and is used for water with high salinity.

These are the sedimentation tanks

These are the sand and carbon filters that remove fine materials

A few of us decided to go to the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery in the afternoon.  We were able to see art that was part of a contest.  The contest is called the Outback Open Art Prize and the art addressed the theme of the Australia Outback.  The contest was judged by Michael Rolfe, Chief Executive Officer, Museums and Galleries.  The Art Gallery also had a section of permanent art, some of which was indigenous art.  It was a unique experience and we also got to meet a young man that played the didgeridoo on an episode of The Amazing Race.

Last but not least a special shout out to Flick, you will be missed.  Thank you for everything!

(1) http://www.flyingdoctor.org.au/About-Us/Our-Bases/OB-SE/Broken-Hill-Base/

(4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Flying_Doctor_Service_of_Australia


8 responses to “July 26 – Broken Hill Royal Flying Doctors, City Council and Essential Water

  1. Another cool aspect of the Essential Water Treatment Plant was that the facility has been there for so long. As stated in the photo above one of the water tanks was built over 100 years ago and is still in use today, along with the fact that water filtration has occured at the facility almost as long as Broken Hill has been a city. There have been over 4 plants on the site and everytime they build a new model they simply let the older model stand and build around it, which gives you a sense that the community has a real respect for history, even if it is something as ususal as water filtration. It was a real treat getting to have a tour of such a cool facility.

  2. Although the Essential Water Treatment Plant was an interesting facility, I was shocked to find out that they had no source of renewable energy generation and I was dissapointed that our tour guides could only estimate that the energy costs annually of running the plant were somewhere between ~A$1-$2 Million for operations. I was also astonished to hear that when the town of Broken Hill nearly ran out of water during a drought in previous years, they had debated shipping in fresh water by way of rail at the cost of ~A$1 Million per day, this seemed like an insurmountable amount of money to pay for the water to be shipped in.

  3. Additionally during the long drought period the town of Broken Hill did not implement water restrictions. I found it very interesting because the city of Adelaide had very strict water restrictions. According to our guides Broken Hill educated their community on how to use water wisely, which dropped the usage by 25%.

  4. What shocked me was that in the town of Broken Hill at the Water Treatment plant, one of the tour guys told us that their philosophy on water was that “it could never be wasted, only misused,” and to continue on from there he said that they never really implemented the water restrictions partly do to the fact that they would get a set amount of water in each week and that if it wasnt used, then it would evaporate. He then said that it was actually better for people to use it on watering their lawn and taking long showers because that way it at least got used in some sense instead of it just evaporating. I thought that was an interesting philosophy from a town, that as Pat mentioned, almost had to rail water in at an exorbitant price in a time of extreme drought.

  5. I loved learning about the flying doctors and all they do for the surrounding communities! Without the services they provide such as the clinics, many of these people would have to travel long distances for certain healthcare or go without! Can you imagine traveling 5-6 hours one way for a doctor appointment? This is also the only flying doctor with a dentist on staff leaving those without access to perform their own “Bush Dentistry”. I don’t know about anyone else but I would never be able to pull out my own teeth! It also surprised me that something so important runs mainly on donations which a couple of the students did donate. But hearing some of the stories really made me respect what they do while also being appreciative for what I have!

  6. Aside from visiting the flying doctors , city council and Essential Water I was able to visit an Aboriginal health organization in Broken Hill. I am very interested in Aborginal culture and I am even doing my final project on alcoholism in the Aboriginal community. While I was at the organization I learned many alarming facts but most importantly I learned that the problems in the Aboriginal community and society are very deep and there is no “quick fix” for the situation.

  7. Being a doctor in the RFDS must be extremely stressful. I can only vaguely image what it must be like to regularly fly 2000 miles to splint a broken leg.

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