MAF Arnhem Land opened its hangar doors to the public in Nhulunbuy, NT, to celebrate 50 years of service in Arnhem Land, but staff and guest speakers are already looking toward the next 50 years of community-building partnerships.
MAF International’s Director of Strategic Development, Stephen Charlesworth, has a clear vision for the future while honouring aviation pioneers such as Methodist Bapa (Harold) Shepherdson, who began mission flying in the area. Stephen treasures MAF’s half-century relationship with the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land, and he emphasises the importance of responsiveness in MAF’s future journey.
“We want MAF to be an organisation that is responding to community-led homelands development initiatives, and where aviation can be part of that development, we should really embrace that going forward,” said Mr Charlesworth, speaking at the open day event.
Yingiya Guyula, Yolngu elder and former MAF engineer and pilot, has a deep appreciation for the people and the work of MAF Arnhem Land.
“MAF were the people that made me feel strong,” he said. “I’m always with MAF, and we’d like to get more support, especially for God’s work to save people.”
Mr Guyula has continued to draw on that strength, and today he uses his voice to represent the people of East Arnhem Land as a member of the Northern Territory Parliament for the seat of Mulka.
Inspired by his own training with MAF, Mr Guyula sees an increasing role for MAF’s engagement with the Yolngu people.
“I always like to see the future, and a future for aviation,” he said. “I’d like to see a flying school for people living around here, with someone like me, Yolngu, and some Balanda (westerners) working together to explain how things work.”
Brianna Piper, Administration Travel Coordinator at Ḏawurr Boarding, Nhulunbuy High School, knows MAF staff as caring and culturally sensitive partners in her work in education.
“They know our people, they know the families,” she said. “We’re very grateful. We believe we’ve got a strong and trusting relationship with MAF, and they’re essential in our work. We look forward to working with MAF for many years to come.”
In between speeches, sausage sizzles and face-painting, the community got a hands-on experience of MAF’s ministry, with medevac demonstrations, flight simulator sessions, aircraft tours and a joy ride for a lucky raffle winner.
MAF Arnhem Land Country Director, Matt Henderson, reflects on the significance of MAF’s past and future service in this remote corner of the world. Like Mr Guyula, Mr Henderson considers education a cornerstone of empowerment and community development that will help Yolngu people to engage actively with the wider world.
“We want to facilitate education because it’s something that will give them the ability to participate in the future,” he said. “The reality is, my time in Arnhem Land will come and go. A key question is, what will we leave that’s lasting?”