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  • Day7

    Wurrumiyanga

    August 25, 2017 in Australia ⋅ 🌙 26 °C

    25 August 2017
    Bathurst Island in the Tiwi Island group

    We had an early start this morning as we had to catch the ferry at 8am. The lady in the Tourist Info Centre suggested we do a day trip to Bathurst Island which along with Melville Island forms part of the Tiwi Island Group.

    These Islands were settled by Catholic Missionaries in the late 1800s and now they have a blend of Catholic Christianity and their own customs and beliefs. They go to Church as you would expect but then their marriage and funeral ceremonies are very much along traditional lines. They have a claim to fame in WW2 in that they saw all the Japanese planes flying over towards Darwin and the missionaries radioed Darwin to warn them but they didn't pay attention to them as they thought it was a flight of US planes. Needless to say it wasn't. By radioing Darwin the Japanese intercepted the message and so strafed Bathurst Island settlement on their return journey.

    Bathurst Island was also the place where the first Japanese POW was taken as one of their planes crashed landed and the pilot was captured. He later died in the attempted breakout of Cowra POW camp.

    Our trip today included the ferry out there and back as well as a welcome to country ceremony, walking tour of the settlement, and some screen printing.

    The ferry trip was excellent. We were on a very new Incat catamaran the Tommy Lyons that was very comfortable and could really move, the engineer said we were running at close to 24 knots which is pretty good. It was a little windy which made some waves but but nothing you could call rough and no worse than what you get in Botany Bay. Like I said before a quirk in geography means Darwin doesn't get waves as it is sheltered from the open sea so our trip across the Arafura Sea was very good. All up it took about 2 hours to get there.

    Once we arrived we had to be ferried ashore by a small landing craft as they don't have a wharf. This craft usually ferries people and vehicles between Bathurst and Melville Islands. We arrived at close to high tide and the current in the Aspley Straight which is the channel between Bathurst and Melville was extremely strong. Tides around Darwin can change water levels by up to 8 metres so they couldn't bring the ferry too close to shore and that is probably the main reason why they don't have a wharf.

    Of course there were crocs and stingers so you didn't go in the water.

    The Tiwi Islands welcome to country ceremony involved smoke. They lit a small fire and added green leaves from the Iron Wood Tree which made a bit of smoke that we all walked through and were cleansed of any bad spirits we brought across from the mainland. This was followed by some traditional dancing.

    There are 8 tribes in the Tiwi Island (4 on Melville and 4 on Bathurst) and one of the biggest events on the Tiwi Islands is AFL and of course there are 8 teams. We walked past the primary school and all the kids were playing AFL barefoot in the playground, it is a huge thing for the islands.

    After the ceremony we walked around town. They have a good museum that explains some of their traditional stories and a beautiful old wooden church. The 2017 Senior Australian of the Year was Sister Ann from the Tiwi Islands. She did a lot of work with the locals and is much loved.

    The old wooden church was actually used in the movie Australia. It was built in 1941 and was an interesting mix of traditional christian icons as well as the Tiwi people's traditional painting and decorating.

    The islands were lucky in 1974 in that Cyclone Tracy came close and did dump a lot of rain but the worst of it actually missed the islands so they have a number of old houses around town.

    After the walk and a quick lunch we were given a try at screen printing. The Tiwi Islands are a well known art area. They make and sell many traditional implements and carvings as well as screen print fabrics and clothes for sale. The art area has been running since the late 60s and is a good source of income for the area. Anyway we could print on the tea towel, t-shirt, or piece of cloth and the results were actually very good for a bunch of amateurs.

    After our art efforts we had to get back out to the ferry and head back to Darwin. By this time the tide had dropped a heap. The really big landing barge they use for building supplies and any other heavy stuff was well and truly beached (see the photos).

    The trip back was even better than the trip out as the wind had dropped so the sea was very calm.

    After a laksa dinner at the Deck Bar we called it a day.

    Tomorrow we are back to Sydney.
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