The Tiwi Islands

The Tiwi Islands

Written by: Cameron Ward

Published: 11/29/2019

Reading time: 3 mins

Just 80km north of Darwin you’ll find the Tiwi Islands. A collection of nine small islands and the larger Melville and Bathurst Islands. The islands have a combined population of approximately 3,000 people.

The Tiwi Islands have the largest population of Indigenous peoples in Australia. Over 90% of the population identify as Tiwi. Aboriginal culture is thriving on the islands. The Tiwi people finding a perfect balance between traditional and modern life. A visit to the islands is a trip genuinely unlike any other. Tiwi are famous for their stunning artwork, textiles and traditional lifestyle. And how could we forget their passion for Australian Rules Football.

  • Art 

    Tiwi art hangs in homes and galleries across the world. All across the islands you can see artwork, from schools to burial poles. Art plays a large part in the Tiwi cultural heritage.

    Visit an art centre to see artists weaving, screen printing, sculpting and carving. Learn about the stories behind each piece and how their art tells their stories. Sit down for billy tea and damper with the Morning Tea Ladies. They’ll teach you how to weave pandanus while chatting about daily life on the island. Finish the morning watching dancing and a smoking ceremony.

    Visit Tiwi Design, one of the oldest Aboriginal business ventures in Australian history. Since the early 1980’s Tiwi Designs have been producing textiles. Original artworks are transferred onto screens and hand printed onto fabrics. These fabrics are then available for purchase. Currently three 13m long tables are used to print the textiles. After printing, they are baked in a commercial oven to set the inks. During the dry season they produce up to 500 metres of fabric each week. Join a Tiwi cultural tour to learn more about the significance of this art in Tiwi culture. Then spend the afternoon sitting down with a Tiwi artist, creating your own artwork to take home.

  • Australian Rules Football

    The Tiwi are well known for their love of Australian Rules Football, or footy. The sport has had a profound influence over Tiwi social culture since its introduction to in the 1940’s. It’s not just hugely popular, but it is a great tool in bringing community together. Local teams also provide important social support networks for young people. In fact, 35% of the population plays footy, by far the highest participation rate in Australia.

    The Tiwi Islands Football League plays over the wet season, at the opposite time of year to the rest of the country. Each March, people from far and wide flock to the Tiwi Islands to watch the football grand final.

It’s so popular that it is the only day each year you do not need a permit to visit! The annual Tiwi Island Art and Grand Final Fair is a huge day for the islands. Locals flocking to sell their artworks to the mass of tourists descending on the island.

You should not miss an opportunity to visit this incredible part of Australia. With cultural experiences aplenty and welcoming locals, you’ll have an amazing time on the Tiwi Islands.

Related article: Sport in tropical Darwin

Cameron Ward
Cameron Ward
Managing Director at Sightseeing Tours Australia

Cameron Ward turned his travel passion into a thriving Australian tourism business. Before he co-founded his own business, Sightseeing Tours Australia, he was enjoying being a Melbourne tour guide. Even now, Cameron delights in helping visitors from all around the world get the most out of their incredible Australian trip. You’ll see Cameron leading tours or writing about his favourite Australian places where he shares his local insights.

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