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Sugarbird Lady

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gwenith is a BSN, RN and specializes in ICU.

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This was shown on the ABC the other night (Thanks George - keep up the good work promoting nursing) I found it a truly remarkable story.


Sugarbird Lady

Broadcast 6.30pm on 26/07/2004

Robin Miller was one of Australia's most important women pilots. Her polio immunization work in northern WA is the stuff of legend, as is the work she did with the Royal Flying Doctor Society until her untimely death at the age of thirty-five.

NANCY BIRD: I knew Robin Miller because she was interested in the Australian Women Pilots', which I founded in 1950. And, in spite of her exceedingly busy life, she found time to be interested in what other women pilots were doing.

MICHAEL PAGE, ROBIN'S PUBLISHER: She was so used, for example, to doing things like flying in through a thunderstorm to an outback station where there was nothing you could really call a landing ground, and getting down there and then picking up someone who had perhaps been gored by a bullock, you know, with a great wound in the abdomen, getting them into the aircraft, and flying back to Perth or Broome or wherever it was where the nearest hospital was. But she was, er..."Well, you know, what's so interesting about that?"

CAPTAIN DAVID MUNNS, RFDS PILOT: She had a passion for flying, there's no question about that. Even in her latter years, says that, um...her two great passions were aviation and nursing.

NANCY BIRD: The extraordinary thing is she wanted to fly quite early in life because she was the daughter of very famous aviator Horrie Miller. And, of course, her mother was Dame Mary Durack, the great writer.

MICHAEL PAGE: I think she started flying when she was doing her nurse training because she wanted some release from that very hard hospital work. And then she went on and got the certificate at some stage. When she got her commercial certificate, she thought she'd get a job flying with one of the airways, but they laughed at her.

NANCY BIRD: It was just at the time that the, um, second polio strike hit WA. And they just didn't know how they were going to cope with this enormous area of the north. And so, er, they thought Robin was the answer to this - this nurse with a triple certificate flying around giving the vaccine to all the 30,000 people in that area.

MICHAEL PAGE: She discovered this way of just dropping the vaccine onto the sugar cubes. And that's how she got her name, the 'Sugar Bird Lady'. The Aboriginal people were, er, very, very close to her. And that's probably because, um, of her family background, when the family were involved in the station activities up in the Kimberleys and, um, the Aboriginal people were almost family to the Duracks. She did things that not a lot of other pilots would have done.

NANCY BIRD: Things like GPS's and so on didn't even exist in those days. Your navigation was with a pencil, a ruler and a road map, if indeed there was even a road map of...of part of that country. Ultimately, she was offered a job as a pilot to the Flying Doctor Service. And, funnily enough, um...two or three doctors refused to fly with a woman pilot when her...she got her first job, and the doctors had to go, not the...not the pilot!

MICHAEL PAGE: She would've...was prepared to bend rules, bend over backwards in order to serve the community. And, er, this is probably one of her qualities that you would admire most of all.

NANCY BIRD: She was flying solo in the...for the Flying Doctor Service, in an aircraft, when the passenger started to have a baby. She'd left it a bit late, going into Perth. And, er, Robin put the aircraft on the automatic pilot and delivered the baby and had great joy. And then coming back on the radio and telling the base that she now had three people onboard. (Laughs)

ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: This is the Robin Miller that so many West Australians knew so well - Robin Miller, the flying nurse. The combination of an attractive and talented young woman and such an adventurous life proved irresistible to newspaper and television journalists, so over the years, Robin Miller became not only a household figure, but also one of the best advertisements for the Royal Flying Doctor Service around the world. But now, tragically, Robin Miller is dead, her life cut short by cancer. Her epitaph could well be these words, spoken in a 'TDT' interview when Robin was talking of her great love, flying...

ROBIN MILLER: It's difficult to define it. It's always a challenge. You never know what you're going to encounter. In my particular job, you never know where you're going or when or for what.

MICHAEL PAGE: Robin was a charming person to work with - a very clever, knowledgeable person. She was a marvellous pilot. She flew all over the world.

NANCY BIRD: One was a solo flight from Paris to Australia. And in another one, I think she actually came across the Pacific. Later, did a copilot flight across the Atlantic. So she circumnavigated the world. She was one of the outstanding women pilots of the 20th century and we should recognise her as such.

MICHAEL PAGE: You meet many, many people in your life. Lots of them you forget, but Robin was an unforgettable one.

GEORGE NEGUS: Robin Miller, the Sugar Bird Lady. Robin was only 35 when she passed away. And it was good to see Nancy Bird again, who clearly admired Robin greatly.

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