40 years of the school run in Arnhem Land

6th September 2018

For over 40 years, MAF has been partnering with Yirrkala Homelands School and Laynha Air to bring education to the remote communities of Arnhem Land. Since the very beginning, they have been using MAF services to transport teachers out to the remote Homelands.

Story by Rebekah Somandin. Photographs by Divyan Ahimaz, Rebekah Somandin and MAF archive. 

The partnership goes back as far as one of our very first MAF pilots in Arnhem Land, Ken Stockton. Ken worked closely with the school principal, Leon White, to provide support for Homelands education.

First day of school

‘If it wasn’t for MAF, Yirrkala Homelands School would not have been established in those early years,’ said Leon.

Leon explained how they were clearing the airstrips by hand in those days, and MAF was a tremendous support.

Leon clearly remembers one time when he was stuck in Gangan for a week because the flight couldn’t get in due to the wet weather. During that time he caught dysentery and got very ill. When Ken Stockton finally flew in, he saw how unwell Leon was, and took him straight to hospital and stayed with him until he was cared for. It was Christmas Eve, and Leon always remembers the kindness and care showed to him by MAF staff.

Back in the classroom

MAF continues to fly teachers from Yirrkala Homelands School out to communities every week.

One Tuesday morning, MAF pilot Simon Kepert flew a team of teachers out to Gangan and was able to stay for a few hours while they prepared for school.

The day began with lesson-planning and then the “school bell” sounded – a large speaker playing a song written by the students over the whole community. Almost 30 lively students gathered at the school, splitting into two groups, primary and secondary. The students were well engaged in the lessons, participating with fun-loving enthusiasm.

Learning together

The philosophy of the school is to work in teams with the local Yolngu Homelands Centre Teachers as well as visiting teachers. They provide support by helping with lesson-planning and demonstrating teaching techniques. The teachers fly in every week, stay in the community for several nights, then fly back to Gove.

Currently Yirrkala Homelands School services six different Homelands, some as far as four to five hours drive away depending on road conditions. A MAF flight can save them a whole day of travelling rough and dangerous dirt roads. During the wet season (October to March), the roads can become impassable and the teachers rely on MAF to reach these remote communities.

Partnership with Melbourne University

Melbourne University and Yirrkala Homelands School have a partnership where student teachers undertake a placement in these remote schools, to develop their skills and understanding of the Arnhem Land context.

‘If it wasn’t for MAF, Yirrkala Homelands School would not have been established in those early years’ Leon White