Tiwi Islands

Totem poles outside the museum
(Click on the image above to see images of our trip to the Tiwi Islands)

An early start today to get to the ferry for an 8am departure to the Tiwi Islands. We had prepurchased our tickets and had to be ready to go by 7.45am at the Cullen Bay Ferry Terminal.  Although Google Maps tells me it's only a half hour trip, we got away at 6.45am to allow for traffic, getting lost or other unplanned events.  Even if we were early, it would be a nice place to sit and wait on the harbour anyway.

The ferry departed on time and it was virtually a full house.  Only a few seats left for the trip over to the Tiwis.  We would travel about two and a half hours to Bathurst Island and dock at the "capital", Wurrumiyanga. The other large island is Melville Island which is only a couple of hundred metres across a narrow channel from Bathurst Island.

It was a very smooth trip over in the ferry with hardly a ripple on the surface of the water. We made good time across the water and pulled onto the beach where the ferry sets out a ramp for the passengers to disembark.  No flash wharves over here, just a stroll down the ramp and up the beach into the town area.

There are some organised tours you can do, but Jude and I chose to wander around the town at our leisure and visit the recommended sites.  You aren't allowed outside the town area without a permit.

Our first stop was the cultural museum, a small corrugated iron shed that holds a treasure trove of the island's history and development. We were going to have a coffee at the Frangipani Cafe next to the museum but it was closed. The museum had a sign telling us to make sure we visited all of the town's art galleries but we could only find Tiwi Arts and were told Bima Arts had closed.  Not sure what the art centre was called and we certainly didn't find one.

From the museum, we wandered up the main street.  There were two very striking things about the walk.  The first was the friendliness of the people. Everyone said hello or waved and we even had one young lad walk with us for about 500 metres up the street and telling us much about the islands.  The second striking feature was the litter around the town.  We saw workers with a garbage truck collecting bins, but the rubbish in the streets and yards was rather disappointing.  I think that if the Tiwi islanders want to continue to attract visitors it would do them no harm to have a "Keep Tiwis Beautiful" Campaign and a major cleanup around the town.

At the top of the town we got some lovely chips at the "shopping complex". This is basically what looks like a bunch of old mining dongas that have been pulled together to form some shops. It housed a supermarket, a takeaway food shop and a laundry.

I saw a sign saying "Mens Shed" and being a member of one back home, we went looking for the place. It was certainly a shed with several of the blokes outside doing art work that included painting shells for sale and working on a magnificent totem that they were doing on commission for a resort in the Northern Territory.  It will be spectacular when it's finished.  We met Arthur was was the sort of spokesman for the group who was an absolute delight to speak to about the Mens Shed. He explained how they worked, what they made, how they supported the shed and many other things about the Tiwis.  Without a doubt, the visit to the Mens Shed was the highlight of our trip.

We returned to the main shopping area to get a bit of lunch to hear an enormous commotion going on in the main street. Apparently there was some sort of fight between two families and everyone was being drawn in as spectators.  We just kept our distance.  A couple of locals explained to us that one family had lost someone and they didn't think the other family was showing enough respect for their loss.

We headed back towards the beach to have a look at the historic catholic mission which had a huge influence over the development of the Tiwi Islands.  It's just a weatherboard high set church typical of the old islands style. From the church we headed to Tiwi Arts which is a major operation here.  There were some magnificent art works there, many of which were on sale.  There were a lot of carvings and a huge screen printing shop that was turning out a vast array of traditional Tiwi prints. Jude certainly enjoyed wandering around the art which I sat in the garden and enjoyed the ambience.

It was soon time enough to catch the ferry back home which leaves at 3.15pm.  We found this was plenty of time to explore Wurrumiyanga.  We would of liked to have looked at the cemetery but it was too far out of town to be walking and get back on time.  It was difficult to get anyone to be able to tell you how far it was or how long it would take. It is sometimes odd that not everyone operates by our standards of measurement with time or distance.

The wind had come up from the south west while we were there, but it still didn't make much difference on the trip back.  The catamaran type ferry just cut through the chop as it headed back to Darwin.

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