St John Ambulance

The Order of St John is an order of chivalry devoted to training in and providing first aid to the sick and injured, and support of the aged or infirm. In 1887 a group in Launceston introduced St John training, gaining vice-regal support, which has continued until the present day. Although progress was spasmodic, the organisation spread to Hobart, and by 1908 there were Brigade units in Launceston, Hobart and several railway centres. In 1928 St John Ambulance Association was training about 100 persons per year, and members treated 450 patients.

Progress was slow until the Second World War heightened public awareness of the need for training in first aid. St John conducted classes in most large towns and major industrial concerns, factories and mines. In 1959 St John took over the Hobart Ambulance Service, which had come under severe criticism. Within two years it was also operating the ambulance services in Launceston, Devonport, Burnie and several country centres previously without ambulance coverage. St John extended the range of its training and its public exposure. Difficulties arose from the creation of a vastly improved and extended ambulance service, training much larger numbers in advanced casualty transport, and melding the minority of paid officers within an otherwise voluntary membership, and St John withdrew from the management of ambulance services in 1970. Many members continued to serve as voluntary ambulance officers.

Since 1970 St John has maintained its traditional role of training, providing first aid at public gatherings, and assisting the aged, incapacitated or infirm. In 2003 St John trained over 13,000 Tasmanians in first aid and related subjects, 378 volunteer uniformed members of Operations Branch treated 2530 patients, and 204 citizens were given befriending support from 100 Community Care volunteers.

Further reading: I Howie Wills, A century for Australia, Canberra, 1983.

Ken Millbourne