Yesterday we took a flight from Darwin to the Tiwi Islands – this is a long-awaited trip for me so I’m excited! It is a short flight of approximately 13 minutes before we land and yes, this shelter is the airport – luggage check-in is in a shipping container to the side. This is the sort of thing which brings me to love islands.
Bathurst Island and Melville Island are approximately 70 km north of Darwin in the Timor Sea. Collectively the Aboriginal population call themselves the Tiwi people. Wurrumiyanga is the largest of several aboriginal communities on Bathurst Island. There is basic infrastructure and a food store in the community and traditional customs such as hunting from land and sea for traditional food is still an important part of Tiwi life. Visitors need a permit to visit the Tiwi Islands and must visit on organised tours or fishing charters.
Waiting for us is our tour guide Jack whose name is really Noel. Jack is a white Australian (Victorian) who has lived on Bathurst Island for three years. Custom on the island dictates that following death of an indiginous person, that person’s name must not be spoken until all appropriate ceremonies are complete. Someone in the community named Noel died and since our Noel carries the same name he must use another name (he has chosen Jack) until the ceremonies for the departed are done and dusted. Our first tour stop is at the Museum with its interesting displays of traditional art and depictions of the Tiwi Creation Time stories. At the Museum we are joined by our indigenous guide Ron.
Then we move on to the world renowned Tiwi arts and crafts co-operative to see where the artists work and watch them in action. Below is one of those artists hand-painting on silk scarves.
The co-operative is housed in a nissen hut and the ceiling is totally lined with hand-painted aboriginal art – remarkably beautiful and I am wishing my ceilings at home were as stunning.
The co-operative shop offers beautiful artworks – paintings, painted silk scarves, painted carvings etc.
On the outside of the building the bower of the Great Bowerbird is pointed out to us. This male bird decorates his bower with the colours of grey and green.
The tour continues on to morning tea with the Tiwi ladies while they work on their painting. The ladies explained the traditional “skin groups” and family traditional interactions and relationships. I learned an enormous amount in regard to local custom from these wonderfully forthcoming women and could quite easily spend a week with them learning more. I am proud to say they taught me a few Tiwi words and were very keen that I should learn more. Our indigenous guide Ron and two other male guides along with the Tiwi ladies conduct a “smoking ceremony” to welcome and bless us before demonstrating their totem dances and explain the meanings behind them.
A visit to the Early Mission Precinct with its unique Tiwi style Catholic Church was another insight into Tiwi life. What an interesting church alter!
Next is a visit to Bima Wear – the place I have most wanted to visit. Bima wear is a fabric printmaking and clothing business begun in 1969 and based at Wurrumiyanga. Twelve Tiwi women currently produce unique fabric prints and sewn garments in brilliant, bold, timeless designs. A not-for-profit organisation, Bima aims to reduce poverty and promote welfare and development of women and girls of the Aboriginal community of Bathurst Island. Bima now provide fabrics to top of the range fashion designers world wide. Needless to say, I am now the proud owner of some of that fabric – extraordinary prints on cotton, linen and raw silk fabric.
Following lunch Jack and Ron drive us inland where we take a short walk to a very special place – a billabong of remarkable beauty.
Then, of course, Bathurst Island showed off her beaches – expansive beaches of white sand contrasting with the iconic hazy blueness of the Timor Sea.
As we drove back toward the community and the airport Jack stopped the vehicle to have a quick chat with a few local hunters who were happy with their wallaby catch which was trussed to the bull-bar – there’ll be a cook-up tonight!
At the airport it was amusing to see that even the toilet blocks were artistically painted in traditional design. This day on Tiwi country ranks as one of the best experiences ever. I loved every minute of it and have to say there was a pang of sadness to be leaving this special island. I can only hope to return again – I have a belief that if the island likes you she will call you back. The last joy of the day was when the plane which would return us to Darwin landed and a Tiwi woman alighted, returning home alone from Darwin Hospital with her newborn in her arms. She was greeted by another local woman who touched the newborn on the head and was heard to say “Welcome to this world little one”.
DARWIN TOUR AND MINDLE MARKET
Today it was so nice not to be out of bed well before dawn and we took the opportunity to lay in until the sun shone over the city. We chose to take the hop-on hop-off bus to tour the city of Darwin and to end the day at the famous Mindil Beach Market where we joined together on the beach with the crowds to witness the setting of the sun over the Timor Sea. As the sun dropped toward the horizon two military helicopters made a pass across the final blaze of the sun.