THE first time Germany’s Sylvia Wols saw The Flying Doctors on screen, she fell in love.
She adored the show – and main character Dr Tom Callaghan, played by Andrew McFarlane – so much that she travelled halfway around the world to visit the town where it was set.
She tells us about her passion for the show, and what it was like when she finally set foot in Coopers Crossing.
I HAD been wanting to travel to Australia since I was 11 years old. That was when, in summer 1986, they aired the eight-part Aussie kids show Golden Pennies, set in the goldmining area about 1850. I was fascinated by the country, the culture and I knew that one day I wanted to visit Melbourne.
Five years later my longing for Australia increased when they first aired The Flying Doctors mini-series and TV show, and I fell in love with the country all over again, and with Dr. Tom Callaghan.
Nobody else in my family or circle of friends seemed to know or care about this show but I enjoyed sneaking downstairs to my grandmother’s apartment every time it was on and we both loved watching it.
In the coming years I never stopped loving Australia and I always had the show in the back of my mind.
In 1999, when I owned my first computer and was able to go online, I started looking for DVDs of the series. I was shocked that they didn’t exist and that I had missed the last German free air TV screening in 1997-98 while I was living in the US for a year.
However, I must have left a note about my desire for this show somewhere on the internet because in 2007 I suddenly received an email from Amazon telling me the mini-series and first season was going to be released as a DVD set. The dubbed German version, but still. Yes, believe it or not, Germany was the first country to release the whole series of The Flying Doctors on DVD! Oh, I was so excited! I just had to get them.
In 2007 I was in the middle of my parental leave and I had a lot of time on my hands. I love doing videos so I put together a music clip about Tom and published it on YouTube. I met a fellow fan of the series, and discovered there was a German fansite.
I signed up and met other Flying Doctors fans in my country. We were only a small group but we grew into a little family, spending many hours discussing the show, the actors, the mistakes that were made during filming, etc.
Over the next few years I more or less lived and breathed The Flying Doctors. I learned all about the country and the real Royal Flying Doctor Service, met more and more fans from all around the world, connected with actors on Facebook and spent many hours chatting to fellow fans online. It was kind of interesting to me that while there seemed to be many European fans of the show, I only met very few fans who lived in Australia. With the support of my friend in NZ I had published a fansite on Andrew McFarlane – www.keksle75.de/andrewmcfarlane.
So how did I get to Minyip?
In 2009, while a bunch of the German forum fans met for a weekend in Stuttgart, I mentioned my desire to go to Australia in passing. Within a few seconds I received initial responses from four fellow fans who said they would love to come with me. The idea was born.
Early in 2010 we had worked out the time frame and what we wanted to see and the three of us met in Stuttgart to get advice in a travel agency. For us it was a must to visit Minyip and Broken Hill to see the places where our favourite series was made.
But it turned out that the agency didn’t even know where Broken Hill was, let alone Minyip. So while they could offer us tours like a Great Ocean Road bus ride and a guided hike in the Blue Mountains, they couldn’t offer us anything to get to Broken Hill.
So we had to do this on our own. Since Minyip was our main destination we were hoping to spend a night in The Majestic, but it seemed the hotel was not operating at the time.
We ended up having to book into a hotel in Mildura, but we would get to spend a few hours in our beloved Coopers Crossing. At least that is what we hoped. Unfortunately, our stay was shortened to about only one hour.
On November 7, we left Melbourne Airport at 10am, drove to Ballarat to see the Big Miner, then went on to Minyip.
According to my time table we should have arrived there by 3pm. But we were late right from the start and in the end got totally lost on our way to Minyip. Like Dr Chris Randall in the series we ended up on a sandy road where we realized we must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.
Somehow we managed to enter the town – missing the famous sign because we probably drove in from the wrong direction – and when we finally parked our car in front of The Majestic the feeling was so unreal.
It had been raining on our drive but Minyip welcomed us with sunshine and we couldn’t believe that we were actually at the place we had watched for so many hours on our TV screens.
Our first comment was, ‘It looks so small. It looked much bigger in real life!’
And then we had to laugh, because we had referred to The Majestic on our screen as the ‘real’ one, while we were now standing in the ‘not so real’ reality.
There was nobody on the streets except the three of us and it felt a bit like arriving in a ghost town. But we didn’t care. We were so excited. We were walking around, filming and taking pictures and just tried to soak in as much of the atmosphere as possible.
We were planning on going into The Majestic but since the whole town seemed to be asleep we were actually anxious of intruding the place. It helped that a guy had noticed us and finally delivered us from our misery and warmly welcomed us to enter The Majestic.
I don’t remember his name but he was the loveliest bloke. He showed us around, let us take pictures and film and even let us go upstairs to the guestroom area.
Then we found out why we could not book into the hotel. The new owner had just taken over and was doing renovations on the building. Because of the long drive to Mildura we were only able so spend about one hour in Minyip. But it felt like so much longer.
The memories we have made there are still so vivid in my mind and we absolutely enjoyed our stay. The only two people we met were so warm-hearted and we just have the fondest memories of this town.
Except for the other fans, nobody seemed to understand why we did this trip to Minyip and Broken Hill and we almost felt we had to apologise and defend our excursion to ‘the middle of nowhere’ whenever we talked about our travel to Australia.
I remember the reaction from actress Georgie Parker, who we met in Sydney about a week later and who asked us about what we have seen so far.
When we mentioned our car trip she was like, ‘Broken Hill? What on earth were you doing in Broken Hill?!’ Yes, we know, not everyone gets this but for us, the fans, Coopers Crossing will always have a special place in our hearts and I would revisit anytime.
It is so very sad that Emma’s Place was closed the day we came. We would have loved to explore this building as well. So maybe another visit to Minyip is a must for the future. And next time we will make sure to spend more time there and also to take the opportunity to speak to more people and hear their stories about the time when film crews and actors took over this little town.
I was very lucky to also meet up with actor Andrew McFarlane in Sydney later during our trip and share with him my experience in the town where he had spent so many hours filming the series.
For many people Minyip might just be a town they never heard of. But for us fans it is so wonderful to know that the town keeps the memories of the series alive and that Coopers Crossing hasn’t vanished from the planet. Thank you for that!