Outback MagazineOutback Magazine


God's boundary rider

Story: Kirsty McKenzie
Photos: Ken Brass

Reverend Fred McKayHe may have been 93 and the conversation might have taken place more than 60 years before, but the Reverend Fred McKay recalled the exchange in 1936 as if it was yesterday.

Fred, freshly ordained as a Presbyterian minister was about to start service as a patrolling padre for the Australian Inland Mission (AIM).

"But what," he asked his boss and mentor, the Rev. John Flynn (Flynn of the Inland), "will I do when I get out there?"

"Just listen to people," advised the mission's founder and its protege, the Royal Flying Doctor Service. "They'll tell you what your job is."

The advice carried him through a career spanning six decades as "God's boundary rider" in outback Queensland, duty in the Middle East and Mediterranean during World War 2, stints as a parish minister in Brisbane and Sydney, 22 years as superintendent of the Australian Inland Mission and responsibilities as, first the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in NSW, then from 1970 to 1973, Moderator-General of Australia, a period when the rocky road to unity with the Methodist and Congregational Churches was negotiated.

The Rev John Flynn farwells Meg
and Fred McKay from Brisbane in 1939
as they set out for a life in the outback.

He listened to bush mothers and stockmen, drovers and graziers, troops going into and returning from battle, committees, councils, prime ministers, popes and royalty.

He responded to their needs and helped out where he could - regardless of race, creed or his personal beliefs.

In the process he earned the legendary status for his dedication to serving John Flynn's ideals and exposing the God "who is always in there somewhere."

James Frederick McKay was born in 1907, the son of dairy farmers from Mackay, Queensland. At the age of six he suffered a ruptured appendix. By the time his parents managed to get him to hospital it had developed into peritonitis which the doctor announced inoperable.

Rather pragmatically his father returned home for the milking. His mother, however, begged the doctor to operate. Then, with no room to kneel, his mother lent over the bed and prayed.

"I remember it clearly," Fred said. "She said:'God you make my boy better and I'll make him a minister.' The doctor operated and, by a miracle, I survived. From that moment I never deviated. I knew I would become a minister." Story end

Full story: Issue 10, April - May 2000

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