Tiwi …

Blown Apart Gulf was a mill pond.

The Tiwi Islands are in Australia’s Northern Territory about 100km north of Darwin. There are two large inhabited Islands, Melville and Bathurst and nine small uninhabited islands. The largest settlement is Wurrumiyanga on Bathurst Island with a population of about 1500. From there Melville Island is a short car ferry ride away.

The Tiwi are aboriginal folk that have a different language and some significant cultural differences from their neighbours in Arnhemland, the nearest part of the mainland. Local Government is the responsibility of the Tiwi Land Council, an outsider needs a permit to visit. This is true of a number of areas under aboriginal control. As an Australian I always find it odd that I need a permit to walk down an Australian street, a Tiwi Islander doesn’t need one to walk down my street. But hey, I had one, and the Tiwi guides made us very welcome.

Wurrumiyanga is a tidy little town of well maintained houses and gardens. We had the opportunity to visit three art galleries, the museum and the church. Along the way we got to see kids at a school that could have been anywhere in Australia.

The strongest feature of the local art was, I thought, the carving which often featured birds. Here are some housed in the museum but there were many fine examples for sale.

Tiwi museum

Carving has its greatest significance in the Pukumani which are carved for the dead. The Pukumani poles are carved by men selected by the deceased’s family but not closely related. They are placed by the graveside in a ceremony that takes place two to six months after burial.

Some of the beautiful designs are also committed to fabric by a technique similar to batik.

As well as their indigenous culture two outside religions have been adopted … Aussie Rules football and Catholicism.

Catholicism came first, Father Gsell founded the mission in 1911. The Church is rather lovely with the interior decorated in the local style.

Tiwi church

Panels behind the altar …

Altar panel

Altar panel

Standing next to the church is a little radio shack. From here Darwin was warned of impending bombing raids during the Second World War. Local people also captured a Japanese pilot during the war as well as assisting in the rescue of some friendly combatants.

Combat these days is on the footy field. The Tiwi have taken to Aussie Rules with a passion, about a third of the population are active participants in the local league and some of the great AFL names learnt the basics right here, including Michael Long and Cyril Rioli.

The last activity on the agenda was tea and some traditional dancing. Here is one of our guides ready to impart some culture …







Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.