Abstract: Education is one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality, and lays a foundation for sustained economic growth. Aboriginal peoples of Australia experience ‘overwhelming’ disadvantages across every indicator of social and economic well being when compared with non-Aboriginal peoples. This disadvantage is experienced across all sectors of education, and although Aboriginal students are participating at high rates in vocational education and training, their pass rates and qualification outcomes remain well below those of non-Aboriginal Australians. This paper maps the participation and outcomes for Aboriginal desert dwellers in the vocational education and training sector and relates these to factors such as: (1) compulsory school access, (2) remote area labour markets, (3) the state of housing and infrastructure on discrete desert settlements, and (4) the policy and program initiatives influencing land tenure, income security and labour force status. The provision of education services across desert regions epitomises the tensions generated when the drivers of desert living – remoteness, dispersed sparse and mobile populations, variable climate, geography, cultures, languages and histories – interact with the differing factors that shape mainstream vocational education. Although innovations in program delivery more consistent with learner needs and aspirations can and do emerge, they are often framed as pilot projects or materialise in parallel program interventions such as youth work or land care. This paper explores the nature of these tensions and identifies the characteristics of educational interventions that can improve outcomes for Aboriginal desert dwellers no matter where they choose to live.