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.
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.
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