On 1st April 1975 the Federal Government acknowledged St John's takeover from 25 December 1974, conditional on the free ambulance service ending and St John reinstating their Ambulance Subscription scheme. The St John Council baulked at this, worried about the backlash from the community and the unions. When they finally agreed and published details in the NT News, the unions (TLC) immediately called for the ambulance service to be returned to the Department of Health.
A Deed of Agreement for the transfer was drawn up by the Government, but St John wanted changes made and the whole episode dragged out until finalised in May 1980. All the delays were of the St John Council's making, not the Government's. The whole official transfer could have been finalised by the end of 1975 or early 1976.
St John Ambulance NT would like to acknowledge the substantial contribution by local historian and NT Volunteer Frank Dunstan MStJ, who has spent a significant amount of time diligently researching and verifying the history documented on our website in relation to the Northern Territory. Frank is also the author of the book Awkward Hours, Awkward Jobs, published in 2013 which documents the history of St John in the Territory from 1915-2012. If you would like to purchase a copy of the book, please contact the volunteer office on firstname.lastname@example.org or call in to the Casuarina Ambulance Centre.
In 603 AD, Pope Gregory I commissioned the Abbot Probus to build a hospital in Jerusalem to care for Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land. This was destroyed in 1005, along with three thousand other buildings in Jerusalem.
In 1023, merchants from Amalfi and Salerno in Italy were given permission by the Caliph Ali az-Zahir of Egypt to rebuild the hospital in Jerusalem. The hospital, which was built on the site of the monastery of Saint John the Baptist, cared for pilgrims travelling to the Christian holy sites. It was served by Benedictine monks.
Around 1070, the monastic hospitaller order was founded by Gerard Tum, later called the Blessed Gerard, whose role as founder was confirmed by a papal bull in 1113.
When Jerusalem was lost in 1187, the Knights of St John established their headquarters in Acre on the coast of Palestine, before moving to Cyprus and then in 1309 to Rhodes. In 1530 they were given Malta, which they governed until expelled by Napoleon in 1798.
The Order’s lands throughout Western Europe were managed by communities of its members called Commanderies, which were gathered into provinces called Grand Priories. From about 1140 the British estates were administered from a Commandery at Clerkenwell, now a suburb of London. This became a Priory in 1185, with responsibility for other Commanderies that had been set up in Scotland and Wales as well as throughout England. Ireland became a separate Priory.
In 1540 the Order was suppressed with other monastic and religious institutions by King Henry VIII. It was restored and incorporated by Queen Mary in 1557, but Queen Elizabeth I again confiscated all its estates in 1559.
The Roman Catholic Order of the Hospital of St John, which is now known as The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta (or simply the Order of Malta) survived its expulsion from Malta.
In the 1820s its Knights living in France offered knighthoods to supporters in Great Britain, irrespective of their Christian denomination; this initiative was not ratified by the Order of Malta. In response to this rebuff, the British body declared itself to be the Sovereign Order of St John in the United Kingdom, under the title The Sovereign and Illustrious Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Anglia, thereby emphasising the order's independence and claim to direct and continuous succession from the Order of St John that was established in the 11th century.
On 14 May 1888 the Order was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria, under the title ‘The Grand Priory of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in England’. Although not a State Order, by virtue of Royal Charter the Venerable Order of St John is a Royal Order of Chivalry, with the reigning monarch as the Sovereign Head of the Order.
The title went through a number of changes until it became The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John in Jerusalem, shortened to The Order of St John.
Now known as St John International, the Order is active in more than 40 countries around the world.
In 1873 the first St John ambulance service was established in Staffordshire, and the Order started an Ambulance Department the following year, 1874.
The St John Ambulance Association was founded in 1877, its purpose being to offer instruction in first aid and nursing as well as to provide “useful ambulance material” that included bandages and stretchers.
In 1882, the Order founded a hospice and ophthalmic dispensary in Jerusalem, known today as the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group.
The St John Ambulance Brigade was established on 24 June 1887. This was a militaristic organisation of uniformed volunteers trained in first aid and nursing who provided services at public events, in emergencies and in wartime.
St John Ambulance quickly spread overseas with the first Association centre established in Malta in 1882. St John Ambulance Association centres were formed in Melbourne in 1883, Newcastle and Adelaide in 1884, Sydney and Launceston in 1887, Bundamba (Queensland) in 1888, Brisbane in 1890, Perth in 1892, and Hobart in 1909.
A first aid course was held in Darwin in September/October 1915 with successful students being awarded a certificate from the St John Ambulance Association. This certificate would have been issued from one of the southern states.
In 1936, “an ambulance movement was inaugurated in Darwin” and in 1937 a division of the St John Ambulance Brigade was formed. This was a sub-centre under the control of either Victoria or NSW and was short lived. Little is known about this Division, apart from the fact of its existence.
After a visit to Darwin in 1946 by Lady Mountbatten, The Commandery of the Australian Commonwealth wrote to the Northern Territory Administration about forming a St John Ambulance Association and later a St John Ambulance Brigade in Darwin. Post war Darwin was a rather rough place at the time and the enquiry was rebuffed.
In 1952 Mr Charles Bannerman wrote to Sydney HQ about restarting St John Ambulance in Darwin. Around the same time, officers from the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) were working on forming a branch of the St John Ambulance Brigade. A meeting was held in Darwin on 28 April 1952 with DCA Fire Chief Norman Bradbury elected as President.
Instruction in first aid began almost immediately with certificates being awarded to 18 successful candidates. Bradbury and navy Surgeon Lieut. O’Donoghue conducted first aid courses in Daly Waters, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs. Bradbury started a division in Alice Springs and first aid groups in the other centres. The Alice Springs division closed in 1956 from a lack of community support.
In October 1952, St John in South Australia gave approval for the formation of a St John Ambulance Brigade in Darwin and a division was registered in early 1953. A cadet division was formed in October 1954.
In 1954, the Darwin Division obtained the lease on a half share in an old Chinese shop in Cavenagh Street, located where the Darwin City Council chambers now stand. This was to remain their headquarters for the next nine years.
The Brigade obtained their first “ambulance” in 1955, an ex-army 1942 Bedford truck, commonly known as a “blitz wagon”. This was only kept for one year.
In 1960, an Auxiliary that became a de facto council was formed in Darwin. A further advancement occurred in November 1965 when a Branch Council of the Order of St John was formed, making the NT a separate sub-District of St John Ambulance, South Australia. The Administrator of the NT became the Council President and officers of the auxiliary, councillors.
Building of a permanent home for the Darwin Brigade commenced in 1961 on a block of land in Ross Smith Avenue, Fannie Bay (modern day Parap). The new headquarters building, lacking its upper storey, was officially opened on 15th August 1963.
The Darwin Brigade took delivery of their first real ambulance, a VW Kombi van, in March 1962. This was based at Superintendent Jack O’Hare’s Nightcliff Clinic and was the start of their volunteer ambulance service. Their next acquisition, a second-hand Holden Belmont ambulance was based at the new HQ. At first, they operated in competition with the Department of Health whose ambulances were based at the hospital and crewed by orderlies and nurses. This changed in 1967 when St John took over the full ambulance service in Darwin between 5.00 pm and 6.00 am weekdays and full time on weekends and public holidays. The Department of Health provided the service at other times. In 1970, the starting time was changed to 6.00 pm.
St John Ambulance spread to regional areas with divisions registered in Alice Springs in July 1961, and in Tennant Creek in April 1963. There were first aid posts in Timber Creek and at Berrimah, Howard Springs and Berry Springs in the Darwin rural area. A volunteer ambulance service started in Adelaide River in March 1965.
As early as 1971 the Department of Health was considering that St John should operate the full Darwin ambulance service, which would need paid staff. Discussions in August 1974 resulted in plans for St John to take over the full service by 1st July 1975. Then along came a cyclone called Tracy. On the night of 24/25 December 1974, Darwin was devastated by the cyclone and on Christmas Day, St John Ambulance took control of all ambulance services in Darwin, including ambulances belonging to the Department of Health.
A full-time manager and a training officer were employed in August 1975 with the first paid ambulance officers starting in February 1976. These included the first two full-time female ambulance officers in Australia. Ambulances operated similar to before Tracy, with paid staff working normal hours week days and volunteers after hours and weekends. The communications centre was operated 24/7 by paid staff. Many staff were also volunteers and worked nights and weekends unpaid.
St John took over the ambulance service from the Department of Health in Alice Springs and in Tennant Creek on 1st July 1979. Paid staff operated weekdays with volunteers at nights and weekends. Declining numbers meant that volunteer ambulance shifts were gradually phased out in all Territory centres.
New adult divisions started in Adelaide River and Batchelor in 1973, at Casuarina in 1976 and at Ayers Rock in 1979. Cadet divisions were formed at Casuarina for boys in 1971 and for girls in 1973. A combined cadet division began in Alice Springs in 1977.
St John Ambulance in the Northern Territory gained independence from South Australia when the Brigade was granted full District status on 30 September 1976, and the last tie was cut when the St John Council was presented a new constitution on 16 July 1977.
With this expansion a new headquarters was needed and work on the new building at Casuarina began in 1977. On Monday 3rd April 1978, Governor General Sir Zelman Cowen laid the “Clerkenwell Stone” in an informal ceremony and the new Casuarina HQ became operational in July that year. The building was officially opened by the Governor General on Sunday 4th May 1980.
St John took over the ambulance services in Katherine and Jabiru in 1980, with Jabiru closing in 1986. During the ‘80s, new adult divisions started in Katherine, Howard Springs, Jabiru, Nhulunbuy and Alyangula. The Howard Springs division relocated to Palmerston in 1985 when a new Ambulance Centre opened in the town. There were Sections at Elliott and Warrego attached to the Tennant Creek adults.
Cadet divisions started at Adelaide River, Batchelor, Katherine, Tennant Creek, Howard Springs, Sanderson, Dripstone, Leanyer, Nhulunbuy and Warrego. A Cadet Band was formed in 1985. Having lost the emphasis on music, it was renamed Casuarina Cadet Division in 2015.
With the need for new regional premises, a ward block in the old Tennant Creek hospital was converted into an ambulance centre and officially opened by the Minister for Health on 10 October 1980. Land was acquired in Alice Springs and a new Regional Headquarters, now named the Bernie Kilgariff Complex, was occupied in October 1982 and officially opened by HRH Prince Charles and Princess Diana on 21 March 1983.
On 1st January 1987, all operations of St John Ambulance in Australia became a single public title, St John Ambulance Australia. All Northern Territory foundations, establishments, the Council and Ambulance Service were known as St John Ambulance Australia (NT) Inc. On this date the Northern Territory Administrator became Deputy Prior.
The Brigade became Operations Branch and the Association, Training Branch.
St John took over the running of the VJY Outpost Radio Network in 1st June 1987, operating the HF system as a radio telephone exchange until 8.00 pm and as an emergency medical link until 7.00 am.
St John took over the ambulance service in Nhulunbuy on 8th November 1993, using paid paramedics and volunteer Casualty Care Officers as ambulance drivers.
A Rural Response Group, based at Humpty Doo, was formed in 1996. Their role was to attend emergency situations only and not carry out public first aid duties. The group came under Community Care and disbanded in early 1998. A cadet division started at Humpty Doo in March 1998.
In 1997 after a lengthy consultation, Operations Branch in the NT was restructured as an experiment to demilitarise the organisation. The Corps level was eliminated, as were NCOs. Superintendents were given more power in managing their divisions. NCOs were reinstated in 2001.
Ambulance Communications relocated from Casuarina Centre in 1999, to the Joint Emergency Services Communications Centre (JESCC) in the Peter MacAulay Centre, Berrimah.
The new Humpty Doo Division formed in 2001 and was registered in 2002 and the Palmerston Division was formed in 2003.
A new health precinct was built in Palmerston and the St John Ambulance Centre relocated there in 2000. With the need for new volunteer premises, land was acquired and a new Volunteer Centre built in 2002.
Darwin Adult Division turned 50 in 2003 and on 9th August celebrated their Golden Jubilee with a march through the Darwin CBD. Darwin Cadets celebrated their Golden Jubilee in 2005.
Patient Transport Officers were introduced in 2004.
The St John Ambulance Community Care Program was officially launched in March 2011. The program is run in partnership with Carers NT.
The Community Education program started in 2011 to provide first aid training for schools, pre-schools, childcare centres and community groups throughout the Territory.
A new adult division started in the Litchfield area in 2011, based at Livingstone in the outer Darwin rural area. The division became defunct when members moved to Casuarina Centre in June 2014 and formed Casuarina Adult Division. Litchfield Division restarted in September 2015, based at Coolalinga. A Youth Division started in Alice Springs in 2016.
There were more Jubilee celebrations when Alice Springs Adults celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2011. Darwin Adults celebrated their 60th, and Tennant Creek Adults their 50th anniversaries in 2013.