lands are in the northwest of the state. They were returned to the indigenous people of the area in 1981 under a special Land Rights Act. You need a permit to enter the area and non-indigenous people who work in the area also need a permit.
It's remote, inhospitable country. You can find just eleven small communities on the map, some of these don't have as much as a shop. (By "small" I mean around 50 to 100 people. Numbers vary as people travel in from the desert and leave again.) A small plane might fly in once a week. Those planes bring mail, might carry a passenger, and may bring something essential. That's about it.
The communities are not safe places. They are often violent. Domestic abuse abounds. Alcohol abuse is a major concern. Getting the children to attend school is a constant problem. Once the children are there teachers are faced with other challenges. The children almost always come from families where the education of the parents is limited. There is no tradition of "work" in the sense that we understand it. Schooling is conducted in the local language and resources are limited by that and other things.
Non indigenous people who work in these communities are different. They need to be. They are facing isolation and hardship. It is dangerous out there.
I remember when the postings were given out to my fellow students at the end of their teacher training. One of the boys was posted to "Indulkana". He didn't even know where to find it on the map. He was expected to go and teach there in his first year out. Now you would get extra training and the resources are different. There was no such thing then. He resigned on the spot and would have had to pay his "bond" (the money given him to train as a teacher) back. He said he couldn't do it. He didn't know enough.
The Senior Cat's first appointment was to Oodnadatta. It is in the north of the state too but it was on the railway line to Darwin. He endured it for a year and was then transferred somewhere else.
I suspect it was used as a testing ground for young teachers thought to have promise. If they could survive that they should be able to run a school later. (He did. He was eventually head of one of the biggest and most complex schools in the state.)
But I wonder about the people who now choose to go to these places. You no longer get sent. Attitudes towards what should happen there have changed. The Senior Cat taught everyone in English. He knows not one word of any indigenous language. There were no resources. It was much the same for those who provided the limited medical and legal services.
It is supposed to be easier now.
I don't think it is. A "pirinpa", an outsider, was murdered recently. She was nurse and she has allegedly been murdered by a local indigenous man. The rest of the community is angry with the man and want to deal with him themselves. (He would likely lose his hands in a tribal ceremony.) It is going to make for tense relations between communities and families and outsiders for months to come.
An indigenous man I know who lives in the city, a fluent speaker of a local indigenous language, expressed his concerns to me in an email. He wants to see language and culture preserved but he worries about how it can be done without dividing those who live in the APY lands still further from the rest of the community.
"Isolation and language divide us," he told me.