Passing the island’s southern coastline from the open deck of our SeaLink ferry, I see nothing beyond the thicket of trees hugging the white sandy shore. Once inside Shoal Bay, the multi-coloured corrugated rooves of houses peek through the trees indicating the first sign of civilisation – Wurrumiyanga – Bathurst’s main settlement.
The tropical Islands Melville and Bathurst together with a selection of nine smaller islands make up the Tiwi Islands, 80 kilometres north of Darwin. In early May I travelled to Bathurst Island, the second largest of the Tiwi Islands with AAT Kings and Tiwi Tours. On this island, our small group of eight met direct descendants of a civilisation who have inhabited the island for 7,000 years.
This half-day tour on Bathurst gives visitors the opportunity to delve into a culture that has existed independently for an incredible length of time AND without invasion from any other nation or culture.
Visitors are allowed on the islands, but only on Tiwi terms. “We have always said who can come to our country and who must go,” states Matthew Wonaeamirri, Chairman of the Tiwi Land Council.
Tiwi has five art centres and we visited Tiwi Design, walking distance from our morning tea location. Operating from a brightly painted corrugated iron shed, around 18 artists work regularly at the studio producing artwork across many mediums including ochre paintings on canvas, screen printed fabrics, glass sculptures and ironwood carvings.
Inside the painting studio, I meet Alan Kerinaiua. He’s working on a canvas, painting an ochre colour around the body of a serpent. Alan began painting at 19 and 35 years later, he says animals are his favourite subject to paint.
To read my full story, written for Tiger Tales click the link to the PDF Tiwi Island story for Tiger Tales Oct Nov 2019