Their motto is parted but united, their playground is the Australian Outback and their teachers are hundreds of kilometres away. If you haven’t already guessed it, we’re talking about children who study at School of the Air.
There are 115 students enrolled at the Broken Hill School of the Air (SOTA), ranging in age from pre-schoolers to Year 6.
They’re scattered across 800,000 square kilometres of inland New South Wales, stretching from the Queensland border in the north down to the Victorian border in the south.
One thing they all have in common is that they rely on the Flying Doctor to look after them.
It’s not just life-threatening emergencies these children associate with the RFDS.
The Flying Doctor also provides them and their families with GP clinics, dental check ups, eye tests, immunisation programs, chronic disease care and a host of associated health support programs.
Recently RFDS staff attended a three day SOTA mini school held on Avenel Station, two hours north of Broken Hill
“The biggest challenge these children face is isolation,” says SOTA Deputy Principal Steven Eason.
“Satellite lessons and online tutorials are important tools but children need to socialise with each other. A web chat is not the same as kicking a football around with their mates.”
The RFDS sent three mental health workers to the camp and arranged for specialists in music and laughter therapy to join the 100+ children, parents and teachers.
“We gave the children simple, effective strategies that are clinically proven to improve health and wellbeing, reduce stress, increase resilience and increase creativity,” says RFDS mental health worker Vanessa Latham, who was part of the team that camped out under the stars for two nights.
“I was struck by how mature and friendly the children were,” she adds. “The older ones looked out for the younger ones and several were in tears when it was time to leave because they don’t get to see other children that often.”
Members of the RFDS mental health team take part in similar workshops and events at small community gatherings right across far western NSW, helping to reduce the sense of isolation and encouraging people to feel more comfortable about accessing regular mental health services.
“The Flying Doctor is part of our lives in remote areas,” says deputy principal Steven. “It’s an organisation we all rely on.”