Beltana was a small settlement 150 miles to the north of Port Augusta in South Australia and was the base of the Smith of Dunesk Mission. This Mission developed the model of ministry that would eventually be used by the Reverend John Flynn for the Australian Inland Mission.
Australia is a vast land and it was settled with small and scattered populations away from the main centres and towns. While the traditional forms of Christian ministry could be somewhat applied in the more closely settled areas, the shape of ministry had to change if it was to meet the spiritual needs of those living in the remote and more sparsely settled areas. In these areas Christian ministry typically took on the shape of a pastoral tour from a fixed centre which may or may not have had a worshipping congregation.
The Rev. Robert Mitchell served the remote Presbyterian congregation at Port Augusta for twelve years from 1882. He was not content simply to care for the flock in the town, but soon began to reach out to settlers to the north and east of the town. He gradually became convinced of the need for a full-time worker to be set apart exclusively for this extension work. In 1894 the Smith of Dunesk Committee asked if he would be willing to open up a new field of work based on the tiny settlement of Beltana.
His new parish, the Smith of Dunesk Mission, was 200 miles long and 150 miles deep. It was named after the bequest which provided the money for the work. For four years Mitchell travelled by horse and trap around his extensive 'parish' in all weathers and in the face of many demanding circumstances. He visited those who lived on the scattered stations, along the railway lines and in the tiny ‘townships’ which dotted the landscape. Mitchell brought the gospel in word and deed to all he came across. He held church services, lent a hand as required and utilized his elementary medical and dental knowledge where and when it was required.
The Rev. Frank Rolland served the Smith of Dunesk Mission for three years (1905-1908). Full of zeal, he built on the pastoral patrols worked by Mitchell, but furthered the mission enormously by combining his work as a patrol minister with that of a Presbyterian Deaconess who had also been trained as a nurse. The advantages of the combination quickly became very clear.
In 1907 the Smith of Dunesk Committee invited Deaconess Alice Main from Melbourne to join Rolland. She settled at Oodnadatta where she was able to treat medical needs in the homes of those she visited and run a Sunday School in the premises of the local public school. Over the three years she ministered at Oodnadatta, Alice Main began the tradition of the alleviation of suffering for which the AIM later became so well known. This combination of spiritual and practical ministry to people of the outback was first seen at the Smith of Dunesk Mission and later adopted by the AIM.
finishing his theological studies, John Flynn was appointed to the Smith of
Dunesk Mission at Beltana and began there in early 1911 after his ordination.