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Fr Tom Duncan hires planes from the local aero club (Outback Magazine/Katarina Silvester)

When he moved to Roma, Queensland, Fr Tom Duncan obtained his pilot’s licence so he could visit parishioners in more remote areas. Source: Outback Magazine.

In 2020, the newly ordained priest was chatting with the then-Toowoomba Bishop Rober McGuckin. They were in the middle of an eight-hour, 740-kilometre drive to and from St George on a pastoral visit, and agreed there had to be a better way to serve the 500,000sq km Toowoomba Diocese, with its 77,400 Catholics.

The following year, 30-year-old Fr Duncan was transferred from Toowoomba to Roma, becoming parish priest of a huge area. 

Bearing in mind his conversation with Bishop McGuckin, Fr Duncan obtained his pilot’s licence so that he could cover many of the long-haul journeys in a Piper Cherokee or an Italian-built Tecnam, which he hires from the local aero club. 

While road travel remains a large part of Fr Duncan’s daily diary, he envisages the future involving greater use of aircraft to cover the longer journeys he often makes.

“The distances are huge in Queensland, as they are in every area of the outback, so flying will become the most practical way of meeting the requirements of the people out there,” Fr Duncan said. 

“There is a shortage of priests and there’s likely to be even fewer in the outback in the years ahead so flying is a great help to reach our far-flung people.”

Week to week, Fr Duncan sits competently and comfortably in the cockpit of his small, single-engine aircraft, as he takes off into the seemingly unending vastness of the Queensland outback.

“We now live in a world of high technology and we have to speak that language and use the means it involves,” he said.


The Flying Priest (By John Dunn, Outback Magazine via Toowoomba Diocese)