It feels a million miles away from anywhere; a place where you can’t help but reassess what’s important and why.
But for husband and wife teaching team Aaron and Paula McMahon, it’s much, much more.
Paula, a Deputy Principal at Mornington Island State School in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and a former QCT manager, says it’s a place where the most experienced teachers can challenge themselves professionally.
“It’s a strong and rich professional opportunity to come up and really focus on being the best teacher you can possibly be for a few years, without the distractions of the mainland,” Paula says.
“We have a culture in the school where teachers engage in professional learning teams to enhance their growth to really understand their students’ learning and to problem-solve and share challenges and successes.
“Our teachers work hard. But there is a strong sense of teamwork and community in the way we share challenges, ideas and successes with teaching and learning'. Our teachers AND students talk relentlessly about 'improving learning’ and ‘what's next in our learning’. It's exciting!”
She has been working on a strong induction and capability strategy and says school leaders owe it to remote students to find the best teachers to teach them.
Her husband Aaron, a Head of Department of Industrial Design, also feels strongly about providing their students with the best possible education.
It was he who drove the decision to move to Mornington Island with their two young children and he says it has been “everything and more” that he had hoped for.
“It was just an opportunity to really broaden our experiences and perspectives in life and live more adventurously,” he said.
“It’s a great opportunity just to slow down a little bit too. Only walking or driving 100m down the road to school gives us more time in the day for school and home. We enjoy more of our afternoons together and having less obligations on the weekend gives us more free time to spend as a family.”
He says while he has been a fisherman his whole life and the past year has been “an absolutely outstanding once-in-a-lifetime fishing experience for all of us”, that’s not what has impressed him most about the remote experience so far.
“For me, the students that we work with up here, they just blow me away,” he says.
“When I go out bush with them I feel like they are the teacher and I am the student and you have got to have the humility to be able to do that. They challenge you on a daily basis with behaviours that can be quite extreme, then they’ll blow you away the next day. That is where the experience has exceeded my expectation, with the relationship that I have been able to develop with the students.”
Paula has also been moved by the children and youth of Mornington Island.
“They are just really, really keen and capable learners,” she says.
Paula says they had always wanted to have a teaching experience in a remote Indigenous community, but at first their career progressions and Aaron’s success in football stopped it from happening, so they jumped at this opportunity.
“Part of the appeal of remote life at this stage of our careers with small children was doing really challenging, gritty work, but also having more time to invest in our children and be the best possible parents that we could be as well,” she says.
Since his arrival Aaron has also been working in a role with future pathways and has travelled to the mainland to see students in technical and boarding schools, where he has felt privileged to see them flourishing.
Many older children are sent to the mainland to boarding school, and Paula says they owe it to students to ensure they can thrive off the island, as well as bring skills back to the community where they have a deep connection to their country.
“What they know about their country and the environment and the bush and animals is just phenomenal and the teamwork, the natural team work that they exhibit when they are out bush is really awesome,” Paula says.
She says it’s important if a teacher is thinking of working in a remote area to know what they are interested in first.
The bush and the sea play a huge role in the McMahons' family life after school and on the weekends.
“There are no local pubs, there are no restaurants for dinner, there’s no shopping centre, movie cinemas, park or playground,” she says.
Instead, there are another 21 surrounding islands in the Wellesley group, beaches and bush to explore. The school has a well-being committee that organises board game nights, movie nights and band nights. There are walking groups, breakfasts at the nutrition centre and community celebrations, events and services, which teachers are actively encouraged to become a part of. Last week there was a circus in town. In September there will be a rodeo.
Paula says even after her most challenging days, she finds the island itself relieves her stress as she heads down to the beach with her family to watch the sunset.
And the professional experience has enhanced her own skill sets as a teacher and school leader.
“I couldn’t recommend it highly enough,” she says of teaching on the island.