Heritage Guide to The Geelong College

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OUTBACK PIONEER: Sir Francis Rolland and the Inland Nursing Service.

See Also Sir Francis William Rolland Kt, CMG, OBE, MC, MA, DD (1878-1965)

The northern Flinders Ranges has a unique association with the Geelong College for it was in this vast wilderness a hundred years ago that a fresh faced minister named Rev. Francis Rolland began his career. In June this year, the Flinders Ranges will be the focus of a Geelong College Exploration group which will travel deep into the Flinders Ranges to experience this isolated part of South Australia’s arid north. One of the aims of the group is to revisit the monument erected at Beltana in 1961 by a College exploration group to commemorate the pioneering outback work of Sir Francis Rolland, Principal of the Geelong College from 1920 to 1945.

The exploits of the Reverend John Flynn are legendary. His superb work and pioneering effort in establishing the Royal Flying Doctor Service are plaudits rightly earned. There was however, an earlier campaigner for remote area services - a forward thinking visionary whose work and exploits led directly to the establishment of the Inland Nursing Service. This man worked tirelessly for improvement in the conditions of life for people in the outback and paved the way for the later development of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. This man is often unacknowledged in the histories of the Australian Inland Mission.

The pioneer was Francis Rolland, later to become Principal of the Geelong College for 25 years and Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church, whose enduring vision for the College, created the buildings and vistas of the School that we enjoy today. The Cloisters, Mackie House and the Dining Hall were all inspired by Frank Rolland and built during his principalship.

Frank Rolland, or 'Lofty' as he was often known, was the grandson of Alexander Campbell the Presbyterian Minister whose persistence and energy founded the Geelong College in 1861. Rolland was born in 1878 and like his father trained to be a Presbyterian Minister. In 1905 he was appointed to the extremely isolated Smith of Dunesk Mission as their Agent based at Beltana, then, a rough and ready railway town on the new line to Oodnadatta in South Australia’s far north.

This was a lonely, dusty and isolated posting and Frank Rolland struggled to traverse the hundreds of kilometres alone by horse and buggy in what for him seemed an endless land. For a compassionate man, as Rolland was, it became a harrowing experience. Bert Keith, in his excellent biography of Frank Rolland, recounts that Rolland’s letters at this time contained heart-rending accounts of the suffering of women and children in the outback. The absolute absence of medical care and the grim fatalism of life in the outback led to a deep despair in Rolland at his inability to improve people’s lives.

It was this posting however, as well as his later work in Broome, that convinced Rolland that missionary work alone was not enough and that a more practical service was necessary. Having seen the need for medical assistance in the outback, Rolland conceived the idea of appointing deaconesses of the Church trained in nursing to become the new missionaries of the Inland.

In 1907, Rolland’s ideas crystalised into a family project to raise funds and appoint the first nurse. Such was the success of this project that in 1910 the first bush nursing hostel opened in Oodnadatta. Named “Rolland House” in honour of the Rolland family’s efforts the building still stands in Oodnadatta although no longer used for its original purpose.

In that same year John Flynn was appointed the new Agent for the Smith of Dunesk Mission and Works Manager for the new hostel in Oodnadatta. Flynn and Rolland became regular correspondents and their partnership was to see Rolland’s original idea become the foundation of a new Medical Service for the people of the Inland.

Following further reports, the Australian Inland Mission (AIM) was publicly launched in 1912 at Scots Church in Melbourne with speeches by the leading proponents, Rolland and Flynn. Rolland continued fundraising and campaigning for the Mission while Flynn became the founding Superintendent.

The success of the Australian Inland Mission is well documented. It developed into a network of hospitals, hostels and aged care accommodation services supporting isolated communities throughout remote Australia. It eventually gave birth to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

In late 1908 Rolland accepted a posting to Noorat in Western Victoria and it was from here that he launched his Broome investigation in 1911. He remained at Noorat until 1915 when he requested commissioning as an army chaplain following the heroic tragedy of Gallipoli. By war’s end the 'Cocoa King', as he had become affectionately known to the front line troops of the 14th Battalion, had risen to Major and become possibly the only chaplain to be awarded the Military Cross. After a short period studying at Oxford, England Rolland was appointed to the Geelong College. Throughout this period and especially during his early years at the Geelong College Rolland remained one of the leading fundraisers and supporters of the AIM.

Rolland said of John Flynn that he was 'One who was like no other, who dared to look at this continent with his own far-gazing eyes – not with the eyes of explorer or exploiter, but rather with the vision of one who came to Minister' . These words also form an apt description for Rolland himself.

Sources: Ad Astra.
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