The origins of MAF in Australia extend back to the height of hostilities during WW2. Numbers of Christian airmen serving both with the RAAF both here and overseas looked forward to eventual peace and the possible use of aircraft in service of Australia’s most isolated people.Once demobilised, these men wasted no time in giving expression to those dreams.
Under the dynamic leadership of Harry Hartwig, former B24 Liberator captain with Coastal Command, Australian Missionary Aviation Fellowship (as it wast hen) was incorporated in Victoria in 1948, with an immediate aim of surveying the aviation needs of missions, remote communities and cattle stations in Northern Australia.That survey was carried out in the second half of 1949using an ex RAAF Tiger Moth.The result was that the MAF Council decided to establish bases both in Australia and in New Guinea.The New Guinea operation commenced first, but tragically Hartwig was killed in August 1951 while flying MAFs first aircraft, an Auster, in the Highlands north of Goroka.
Re-establishing its foothold in New Guinea consumed all of MAF’s resources for the next few years.MAF-Air Services, the engineering and training organisation for MAF was established on the former RAAF base at Ballarat in 1961, and over the next 40 years became an integral partof the Australian aviation scene, serving not just the needs of mission aviation, but the wider General Aviation community as well.It was not until 1973 that MAF’s commitment to NorthernAustralia was finally realised and in 1976 MAF assumed responsibility for the Church Missionary Society’s operation based at Oenpelli in Western Arnhem Land.
New bases were opened over the years in Gove, Milingimbi, Lake Evella, Ramingining, and Numbulwar. With the collapse of Northern Airlines in 1981, MAF was able to take up slack with the introduction of RPT services over some of NA’s former routes.MAF’s “raison d ‘etre “ has always been to serve the needs of isolated, usually indigenous, populations.Medical evacuations and other health-related flights are commonplace, and in some areas MAF is the sole provider of these services.
Throughout Arnhem Land MAF has supported the ‘outstation movement’, enabling aboriginal people to live successfully in their homeland areas, rather than be concentrated in the various townships.In 1982, at the invitation of the Ngaanyatjarra people of Central Australia, MAF commenced a new operation based in Alice Springs, servicing the Ngaanyatjarra communities of the Central Reserves in WA.Over the next 20 years other aboriginal councils in Central Australia came on board with the result that a large operation developed, including a RPT service serving ports all the way to Perth, at the time the world’s longest regular air service by light aircraft.Whilst the aircraft and other infrastructure was owned by the respective aboriginal organisations,MAF provided aircrew, operational control, management and engineering.
In 2002, both headquarters and training / heavy maintenance functions were moved from Melbourne and Ballarat to Cairns and Mareeba inFNQ respectively.These facilities support the ‘field’ operations not just in Australia, but also Papua New Guinea, Timor-Este and Bangladesh.Currently more than twenty five aircraft are in service in northern Australia, operating from five bases.MAF Australia is serving communities in remote areas where flying is not a luxury, but a lifeline.
There is no Government funding for MAF, however the organisation has Public Benefits Institution status allowing for tax deduction receipts to donors.Each Pilot that desires to fly for MAF must raise the sum of $US 65,000 before they can be recruited, and 90% to 95% of funds raised are through sponsors and churches.Mission Aviation Fellowship’s 45 year operational presence in Arnhem Land (and 67 years in PNG )is illustrative of the organisation’s commitment to long term (but largely behind the scenes ) service of people living in extreme isolation.
The vision of those who built MAF from nothing in the 1940’s continues to this day as a new generation of MAF staff use the best of current aviation technology to serve indigenous Australians.