Education for the Remote

For over 40 years, MAF has been partnering with Yirrkala Homelands School and Laynha to bring education to the remote communities of Arnhem Land.

Story and photos: Rebekah Somandin

Yirrkala Homelands School was formerly part of Yirrkala School, and the services for Homeland communities began in 1974. Since the very beginning, they have been using MAF services to transport teachers out to the remote Homelands. The partnership goes back as far as one of our very first MAF pilots in Arnhem Land, Ken Stockton, who worked closely with the school principal, Leon White, to provide support for Homelands education.

Partnership in the beginning

“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 and always reliable.

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.


Visiting Gangan

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.

Supporting the local teachers

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.

Working with the community

Yirrkala Homelands School works with the communities to achieve their goal to become a self-determining, self-managing community. They strongly value the heritage, culture and knowledge that the students bring with them and use these as a starting point for the students’ life-long education journey.

Their programs encourage the students to develop skills, hope and vision for their future.





Bringing Healthy Smiles

It was not your usual dentist visit! Treatments from the Dental Therapist took place under the shade of a tree and children brushed their teeth under a nearby garden tap. MAF and Laynha Health are partnering together to bring health and education to the isolated communities of Arnhem Land.

Bringing Healthy Smiles

Story and photos: Rebekah Somandin


Flying over the sparse bushland and numerous winding rivers, the scenery was dotted only occasionally with a few small clumps of houses. It felt as though we were flying in the middle of nowhere, with only trees out one window and the ocean out the other. Finally we landed in a small Homeland on the tip of a peninsula, a little place called Baniyala, or Stingray.

I was accompanying Caroline Falconer for the day, a Dental Therapist who regularly visits many different Homelands throughout Arnhem Land. As I watched her treat the children with gentleness and care, I felt privileged that MAF could play a part in supporting these communities through health and education.

Providing treatments outside a home in the community

Zackatah Marawili gives a big smile


Essential services in remote Homelands

Caroline works for Laynhapuy Homelands Aboriginal Corporation, an organisation that is owned by the Aboriginal people of East Arnhem Land. The Board is made up of traditional elders from all of the Homelands in the area. Doctors, nurses and dentists work for them under Laynha Health, travelling out to the remote Homelands with their skills and their culturally sensitive care. They also employ Homelands residents in Aboriginal Community Health roles.

Their work enables the Yolngu to live in their traditional lifestyle while still having access to essential health services. This has a huge impact within the culture, as they are assisting to return the dignity, identity and sense of purpose to the Yolngu as they live on their traditional land.

Not your usual dentist visit

As a Dental Therapist, Caroline spends her days travelling to different Homelands and caring for the teeth of children under the age of 18.

Today she was applying a fluoride treatment as a preventative for decay, which she does every six months. Walking around the community in the heat of the day, she called out to every child she could find, all of whom she knew by name as she had been visiting them since they were babies. Treatments took place under the shade of a tree and children brushed their teeth under a nearby garden tap.

In addition to this, Caroline provides clinical treatments in a small, very basic clinic room. The children are quiet and compliant under her care.

Caroline talks with local Aboriginal Health Worker, Wesley Dhamarrandji

Zackatah Marawili receives a checkup in the clinic room


Education in Oral Health

Using many words in the local language, Caroline talked with the mothers to educate them on the importance of brushing your teeth every day. She showed graphs and photos of children’s teeth with common dental problems in the area. Nyuka Dhamarrandji, the local Aboriginal Health Worker for Laynha Health, helped explain the photos to the young children in their own language, telling them to avoid sugary food and drinks.

Caroline and the local Aboriginal Health Worker, Nyuka Dhamarrandji, talk about the graphs and photos explaining Oral Health


Caroline shows Nyuka the teeth of Kristinal Marawili


The difference with MAF

To travel to Baniyala would take about 3.5 hours on rough, pot-holed dirt roads. During the wet season, the roads become dangerous and often impassable. To fly there was an easy 40 minute flight.

Caroline came to Arnhem Land over 10 years ago. As I talked to her it was clear that it’s not the numbers and statistics that matter to her, but the relationships with the people.

“We love working with MAF as we travel out to the Homelands,” she said. “MAF staff have the same attitude and care that we do. It’s about caring for the communities in a consistent and practical way.”

MAF partners with Layhna Health to bring many flights like these out to the Homelands, providing physical help and practical support.

MAF Pilot Marijn de Zwart gets ready to fly the team home


Sharai Hutchinson, Dental Assistant, and Caroline Falconer, Dental Therapist


Baniyala Homeland

Partnering with Pioneers

Story and photos: Rebekah Somandin

MAF and Pioneers have had a partnership in Arnhem Land since 2014, but it has only been in the last year that things have really started to gain momentum. The Pioneers team has grown from one to four families, and one of the families is now based out in a remote community. Over the past year the partnership has only grown stronger.

Aerial view of the Milingimbi community

The need for discipleship
Over the years, MAF have received many requests from Yolngu believers in Arnhem Land for mentoring and discipleship. There have been so many that, alongside the constant demand for flights, our staff could not meet the growing need. In 2014 MAF invited Pioneers to work alongside them to meet this need and an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) was signed, but for almost two years Pioneers was unable to find someone willing to come to Arnhem Land.

A heart for the Yolngu
Craig and Red Fulton joined MAF in mid-2010. Craig began in Arnhem Land as a pilot, but after three years took on the Programme Manager role from 2013 – 2016. Seeing the need for discipleship and with a strong desire to spend full-time ministry with the Yolngu people, Craig eventually left his role as Programme Manager and became the Team Leader for Pioneers at the beginning of 2017.

“I remember sitting in the car park – where all of our important decisions seem to be made!” Red laughed, “And Craig said to me, why are we waiting for a new family to come to Arnhem Land to fill this role? We should do it!”

Craig and Red’s heart have always been to know Christ and to make Him known, right through from being pastors in Sydney, to flying with MAF in Arnhem Land, to joining Pioneers.

Pilot Brett Nel with Ed and Sal Hawkins from Pioneers

A synergistic partnership
Having the Fultons step sideways from MAF into Pioneers has enabled a very strong partnership to form. With a number of years’ experience in both culture and language as well as within MAF, Craig and Red were well equipped to begin this new partnership.

“I see our partnership with MAF as synergistic,” Craig said. “Our unity will lead to our enhanced realization of both of our visions. Together our mission is to see the long-term transformation of the indigenous people of Arnhem Land through Christ. The result will be far greater than the two parts working separately.”

“Our hope is to see that grow even more, as we look for ways to enhance the unity between all Christians of this area,” Craig continued. “This will, in turn, enable God to work in this land.”

MAF supports Pioneers by offering discounted flights, inviting them to join Language and Culture courses as well as MAF retreats and conferences, sharing resources and spending time together in fellowship. MAF has also developed many relationships and connections within the communities and homelands, which Pioneers are able to build directly onto.

Sal Hawkins from Pioneers with her good friends Ruth and Helen

Vision of Pioneers
The vision of Pioneers is “Yolngu discipling Yolngu”. This is a long-term goal, but they are here for the long-haul.

“All the members of our team have a long-term commitment to Arnhem Land, considering 10 years as a starting point,” Craig said. “We have realised that to make an impact in Arnhem Land, to build relationships, to see transformation, requires time. And we want to give this the time that it needs.”

Since 2017, the Pioneers team has grown from one to four families, with more in the pipeline.

Pioneering in Milingimbi
Ed and Sal Hawkins had a clear vision about working with indigenous people, and in December 2017 they moved to Milingimbi as the first community-based family for Pioneers. Sal had this to say, “We are so blessed by the foundation that MAF has built here over all these years. There is a great fondness for all the MAF families who have lived here. The community accepted us straight away and we are reaping the benefit of the trust, love and respect MAF has already earned.”

Milingimbi is close to the heart of MAF staff. Having been based there for over 40 years, MAF saw the community reach a point of struggle. The young people were constantly caught sniffing fuel and their desperation also led them to break into the MAF aircraft to steal avgas. When sniffed, it was having a disastrous effect on their health because of the lead content. After many attempts to work with the community and the elders, it became apparent that we were not going to see an end to the fuel sniffing in the near future, and the difficult decision was made to temporarily relocate our MAF family and our aircraft out of Milingimbi.

This makes us even more grateful for our partnership with Pioneers. While we are not based in Milingimbi at present, the ministry still continues with our close partners, and our pilots still regularly fly in and out of this community.

Our partnerships with organisations like Pioneers is exciting as it further empowers our vision to see physical and spiritual transformation in Arnhem Land.

The Pioneers team.

MAF’s work in Arnhem Land provides Aboriginal homeland communities with access to healthcare, education and development opportunities. In addition, MAF flights support the local church.

Visiting Gäwa

In East Arnhem Land, MAF is partnering with Gäwa Christian School to bring a full education to the remote homelands.

Story: Rebekah Somandin, Photos: Cameron Herweynen.

As our MAF plane circled over Gäwa, a small community located on the tip of Elcho Island, I couldn’t help feeling excited. Living in Arnhem Land, I’d often heard of this homeland and the wonderful Christian school based there and now I was finally going to see it for myself.

Soon after arriving we met the school Principal, Rachel Herweynen, and it didn’t take long to feel how much love and hope she has for the people in this community.

“Both ways learning”

“Having the school on the traditional land is significant,” Rachel said. “The elders have thousands of years of knowledge and skills that can only be passed on by being on their own land.”

“But they also recognize the importance of being able to navigate the “Balanda” (or non-indigenous) world, so it’s important that the teacher’s work alongside them.” Having the traditional knowledge passed on by the elders in partnership with the school makes for rich learning. The teachers are able to present concepts from the non-indigenous perspective, but using the traditional knowledge and culture. This is called “both ways learning”.

Made by God

“It is wonderful when the MAF pilots come here,” Rachel continued. “They see the people as we see them. Not as clients, but as beautiful people wonderfully made by God.”

“Apart from the practical side of getting staff in and out, the pilots are also great role models. The interaction with MAF helps the kids to dream and see opportunities. Two of our little ones even want to be co-pilots one day!”

“MAF has also shared lots of resources in local languages with us, which allows us to reach the students in their own language that speaks to their hearts,” Rachel added gratefully.

Teaching what’s important

“I am passionate about seeing the students know their identity in Christ, and to have strength and security in that,” Rachel explained. “When you know who you are in Jesus, you’re free from the limitations that systems the government and other people have set on you.”

She also explained how important it is that the children learn “Warramiri” in class, the “language of the land”. More than the skills they learn, a highlight is seeing them value their own culture and their own language. Students themselves have said, “It’s important to learn to speak Warramiri”.

Christianity and culture together

Rachel shared a story with us about some visitors who came to the school for just a few days. At the end of the trip their visitor said, “I always wondered how Christianity and culture could work together or if it was even possible. But after being here for a few days, I can see how well it can and does work.”

Rachel explained to her visitor that it’s only possible if Jesus is the centre. Lives are transformed by God and not by people’s agenda. This has allowed the partnership between the community and the school to grow and be sustained all these years, and hopefully for many more years into the future.

Daphne Dhamarrandji, a long-term Yolηu staff member, hopes for the students to one day have a job they can take pride in. “I want to see them become a doctor, pilot, teacher, mother or principal. But number one, that they can know God’s way.”


It surprised me how, after just a few short hours together in Gäwa, I felt a strong connection with this school in its community of only 10 houses. MAF’s passion and vision is the same as the Gäwa Christian School: to see isolated people transformed in Christ’s name.

What a privilege it is to be partners.