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Far West to lose Flying Padre

Thursday, 9th April, 2015

By Craig Brealey

The Flying Padre will no longer take to the outback skies from Broken Hill.

The Uniting Church confirmed yesterday that the padre’s mission which had served small towns and station properties in the Far West for decades will cease on June 30.

According to the church’s Frontier Services, the main reason for its decision was cost.

“As stewards of public money, we had to ask: How much better can our services be delivered, and is running a plane out of Broken Hill the best way?” the Acting National Director of Frontier Services, Grahame Ryan told the BDT.

“Running a plane is extraordinarily expensive,” said Mr Ryan.

“It requires large infrastructure, hangars, Avgas... you have got to ask these questions.”

Mr Ryan said Broken Hill’s Flying Padre was one of 14 Patrol 

Ministers around the nation and the only one that would be grounded, although the future of all of them would be discussed at a national convention of the Uniting Church this year which would also consult widely with church communities.

He admitted that it was a very difficult decision but one that came down to economics.

“We have two planes at our Centralian patrol in Alice Springs but there are a couple of big differences (to the one in Broken Hill).

“The Alice Springs patrol covers 670,000 square kilometres; Broken Hill’s covers 200,000.

“The key differences between them is that the Alice Springs planes have had upgrades in the last couple of years which were agonisingly expensive but necessary to meet CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) regulations.

“In Broken Hill that work has not been done.”

The local plane had to be upgraded by the end of the next financial year, on July 1, 2016, and it would have cost the church a total of $200,000, including salary and upgrades, Mr Ryan said. 

“We have always taken a primarily pragmatic point of view throughout our 102-year history, and being pragmatic is the best way to use public money,” he said.

Mr Ryan gave as an example of this approach the church’s services to Meekathara and mining camps in Western Australia. The need for them diminished once companies started using “fly-in, fly-out” workers and so they were changed.

He said church had found in other parts of the country that its ministers could still serve the outback well by road instead of by air, and that Broken Hill was better served than most.

The city had a part-time minister and would soon get a full-time minister to replace the Reverend Will Pearson, who retired 10 months ago.

As well as this, the church had recently started sending volunteers to station properties and towns such as Lightning Ridge to do some of the work done by its Flying Padres and pastors.

From the Broken Hill airport, the padre flies his single-engine plane to stations, outback schools and towns to conduct baptisms, weddings and other religious services.

His mission covers Tibooburra to the north, Ivanhoe to the east, west to the SA border and south near the border with Victoria.

A petition to keep him in the air was started last week after the BDT reported that the Flying Padre might not be around for much longer, and a BH City Councillor was seeking to have his fellow councillors reverse their decision to not waive the padre’s landing fees at the airport.

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