Photos of The Tiwi Islands - Bathurst Island, Australia

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The Tiwi Islands - Bathurst Island

The Tiwi Islands are, apart from Tasmania, the largest islands off the Australian coast. They lie 80 kilometres north of Darwin in the Arafura Sea. There are two main islands, Bathurst Island and Melville Island with a total land mass of 8,320 km². Bathurst island, the smaller of the two, lies to the west and is about 2,070 km². The islands have been inhabited since time immemorial by people, referred to as "Tiwi", a word that, in their language, simply means "People". It is thought that they may originally have come from the mainland, many thousands of years ago, but became isolated when sea levels dropped. They have developed a unique culture, quite different from the mainland.

Tiwi face painting
 
Watching the game
 
Nguiu church
 
Tiwi portrait
 
Grandfather
 
School girl
 
With grandpa
 
Smoking a pipe
 
Catholic Mass
 
Cape Fourcroy
 
Beach at Rocky Point
 
 
Swimming in Tumwarripi
 
Road to Cape Fourcroy
 
Bushfire
 
Nguiu church
 
Near Rocky Point
 
Cliffs, Rocky Point
 
Bathurst Island sunset
 
Rocky Point
 
Apsley Strait
 
Tarntipi beach
 
Turtle tracks, Artiwini
 
Children after communion
 
Playing after rains
 
Tumwarripi Falls
 
Traditional face painting
 
Cemetery in Nguiu
 
Sunrise and Mary
 
Artiwini beach
 
Bush grave
 
 
Cliffs at Mukanuwu
 
Painted for dance
 
Face painting
 
Cemetery in Nguiu
 

Bathurst Island Catholic Mission was established in 1911 by a French missionary, Father Gsell, of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. The Tiwi may at first have been puzzled at this man who performed strange corroborees by himself but he gradually earned their trust, especially as he used medicine to heal their ailments. The Tiwi measured the prestige of a man by the number of his wives; young girls were often married to older men. When a girl, who refused to go with an older man, sought refuge at the mission, Fr. Gsell defused the situation by "buying" her for a wife. This seemed a satisfactory solution and over the years, he acquired as many as 150 "wives", who were taught domestic skills by nuns in the convent that had been established. As a result, the Tiwi are firmly Catholic, although they still keep the many aspects of their culture that don't clash with their Catholic faith.

There are regular tours from Darwin, where tourists may visit the wooden church and an interesting museum at the school. The island has a beautiful coastline, with wide beaches where large sea turtles lay their eggs, ammonite fossils embedded in the sandstone rocks at Mukanuwu, weird rock formations like Rocky Point, and a wonderful waterfall and pool at Tumwarripi. And, best of all, there are the friendly Tiwi people, with their unique art and craft that can of course be bought during the tour.