Robin Miller and the Royal Flying Doctor Service

Robin Miller unloading a patient from a Royal Flying Doctor Service Duke aircraft at Port Hedland

The daughter of writer Dame Mary Durack and aviator Horrie Miller, Robin was born in Subiaco with flying in her blood. Talented and ambitious, she studied at Loretto Convent and trained as a nurse at Royal Perth Hospital.

When she upgraded her private pilot's licence to a commercial one in 1966, nobody would employ a female pilot, no matter how qualified she was. So Robin took matters into her own hands.

When a polio strike hit WA in 1967, distributing vaccine to rural communities in the north was a challenge. Seizing the opportunity, Robin borrowed money to buy a plane and made an offer to the Department of Health they couldn’t refuse: she would fly her own aircraft, solo and administer 37,000 doses of the polio vaccine herself.

Robin Miller handing our polio vaccine and examining eyes at a bush surgery on Don McLeod's property West Wodgina Hills in the North-West (tin mine), 1967.

Robin’s actions were life changing for people in the Kimberley and the Pilbara. She arrived from the skies administering each oral vaccine with a sugar lump to disguise its bitter taste. Children in the Aboriginal communities called her 'the tchooger bird lady', meaning the 'Sugar Bird Lady'.

With 43,000 air miles under her belt and a unique rapport with the people living in WA’s most remote regions, Robin was soon offered a position with the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Robin could do it all: as a pilot and a nurse. She often flew solo, even servicing her own aircraft. Robin reacted to those in the industry who expected her to don men's clothing, by wearing skirts rather than trousers on her flights.

Royal Flying Doctor Service flight in the Kimberley, ca.1994.

Tragically, Robin died of cancer in 1975, aged just 35 but in her short life, she revolutionised the opportunities for women in the aeromedical industry and refused to be held back by the limits of gender expectations and stereotypes.

Robin Miller in nurses uniform with map and dead reckoning calculator preparing for an air race, October 1965.

This page last updated on 14 October 2021