Tiwi Islands

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September 6th 2020
Published: September 6th 2020
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Lucy, Rowan , Sam and Tracey had bought us a trip out to the Tiwi Islands as my birthday and Fletcher's Father's Day present. This was planned for Friday morning. I was sure that the ferry left at 8-30am so we planned to have a taxi collect us from the hotel at 8 and it was only a 5 minute drive to Cullen Bay where the terminal is situated. We went down to the lobby at 7-55 and the taxi was waiting so we set out. I got out the ticket to check and suddenly read that the departure time was 8am! We arrived at the Terminal about 8-02 and while Fletcher paid the taxi driver I ran up the steps and along the quay and could see the ferry just pulling out from the dock. Shouting Wait! Wait! I must have looked like a woman possessed but the two deck hands saw and heard me and shouted back, Äre you going to Tiwi Islands? " When I said yes, the boat came back to the dock to pick us up. Whew!!!

We were met at the shore by Kevin, a jovial local man, who ticked off our names on his list and then welcomed us to his homeland. He then gave us information about the history of the islands and their encounters over the years with the outside world, starting with Macassans , then the Dutch in the 16th century. The British only arrived in the 1800s. The Tiwi people are very proud of their culture and history which was evident in his enthusiasm and humour.

We then walked to the Tiwi Design Centre where we sat in the shade of an open shelter in which there was a fireplace. We were given a traditional welcome with a smoking ceremony which we were told would bless us and drive evil spirits away. A small group of 3 women and 4 men gathered to perform for us.Accompanied by rhythm sticks played by the oldest lady , they did three different dances based on animals close to their culture and all connected with the islands. The first was a crocodile dance , followed by a shark then finally a horse one, based on the wild horses on Melville Island, descendants of some left by the British. The oldest man was a real character, inventing new moves and cracking jokes all the time.They were all related to each other. After our welcome we were given morning tea consisting of damper with assorted toppings like jam and vegemite. During this time Fletcher and I looked around the gallery of goods on sale, manufactured right there by local craftsmen and women.One of the ladies was called Immacolata and we found a beautiful bird carved by her on sale. Pricey at $135, but unique, we purchased it as our souvenir of our trip. She even consented to having a photo taken of her, Fletcher and her carving.

We were then taken to the nearby church. In the early 1900s, a French Catholic priest arrived here to convert the locals. As was the practice at the time, they banned all local customs and beliefs but the islanders continued to honour them anyway. Kevin told us a long story of how a priest who had tried to dislodge one of their totems was nearly drowned but saved by local people who brought him back through smoking and singing him to health. This changed the priest's views and the church we entered was decorated with local artworks and totems. If anyone saw the film, Top End Wedding, this was the church in that. They are trying to get a grant to upgrade and preserve the church. Outside of the church was a statue to a local man Matthias Ulungura, who arrested the first Japanese pilot to be captured in Australia. He had crash landed on Melville Island. , Matthias did not have a gun but turned his small axe around, put this in the back of the pilot and said, Hands Up. He then took the man's gun. The prisoner was later sent to Cowra where he led the breakout!

Back at the Design studio we were given lunch. This consisted of sandwiches of various meats and salad, a piece of cake, a Fruit Box and a small Mars bar. Washed down with cold water this was fine. We were then given the choice of screen printing a tea towel or T shirt. I opted for the former while Fletcher decided on the latter. We could choose from a range of stencils and Fletcher's choice was a turtle and mine a cockatoo. A young man, Darryl, helped us (or rather did the whole thing) but we could choose the colours. It was interesting to watch the way he mixed the paint and patted it so no air bubbles appeared and then spread it over the screen. I was very pleased with my triple cockatoo yellow and orange tea towel while Fletcher's turtle turned out very well.

We were then farewelled by Kevin and his family and walked back to the ferry. This left at 3-15 and two and a half hours later we were back at Cullen Bay. We decided to stay here for dinner. This area is very flash with high rise apartment blocks and many eateries along the water.'s edge. We strolled along, looking at the menus but finally decided on Seafood on Cullen which though a buffet, which Fletcher generally shuns, looked as though it had a range of choices and the food was refreshed frequently. We were shown to a table on the back deck, giving us a great view of the harbour. So we watched another glorious Darwin sunset happily drinking a glass of Sauv Blanc.

. The food was excellent. Starting with prawns and a spicy octopus salad we then had scallop mornay served in crab shells. Yummo! For the main course we just settled on some plain fish and chips which was delicious and just enough to satisfy the hunger. A scoop or two of icecream finished the meal on a good note. I find that too many places here are over generous with the serves and I hate wasting the food but cannot eat it all. A taxi back to the hotel ended a long but interesting day..

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