The Tiwi Islands – A Brief Introduction

Hello internet!

I’ve been meaning to post something onto my blog for a while now, however my coursework has been plentiful and my research is only just beginning to shift into gear, leaving me with little to say and even less time in which to say it!
That said, the Easter break is coming up and I’m beginning to wind down a bit – why work now when I can just do it all in a last minute frenzy over the break?! As such, I’ve finally decided to put on my bloggers cap and give a little run down about the site that I’ll be turning my focus towards for the next few years – the Tiwi Islands.

Location of the Tiwi Islands (Image: Google Maps)

Location of the Tiwi Islands (Image: Google Maps)

The culturally significant and biologically diverse Tiwi Islands, natively referred to as Ratuati Irara, meaning “two islands”, are comprised of the Melville and Bathurst islands* (5,786 km2 and 2,600km2 respectively). The islands are situated ~60km north of Darwin, with the larger Melville island (Yermalner in the native Tiwi language) the second largest island in Australia after Tasmania (discounting the mainland). The local indigenous peoples, the Tiwi, have a millennia-long history of ownership and guardianship of the islands and their local fauna and flora. The Tiwi Land Council (TLC) has authority over strategic natural resource planning on the islands, and is a partner organisation in the project of conservation planning and management of which my research will form a small portion.

The Tiwi flag (Image: Pascal Gross)

The Tiwi flag (Image: Pascal Gross)

The biodiversity of the islands is considered to be in good condition, with a study by Woinarski [1] recording 1,082 native plant species. A further study recorded 216 bird species, 49 fish species, 36 mammal species, 81 reptile species, 17 frogs species, and 151 ant species [2]. Whilst this is likely far from an exhaustive list, it gives an indication of the immensely diverse range of plant and animal life situated on the islands. Specifically regarding my research project, the Tiwi Islands represent a stronghold for small mammal populations that have suffered catastrophic declines on mainland Australia.

In addition to the fantastic range of biodiversity, the Tiwi islands offer much in the way of rich cultural tradition. Tiwi occupation of the islands can be dated back over 8,950 years, with practices such as creation stories, ceremonies, dancing + singing, hunting, and art passed down to this day. Notable collections of Tiwi art in Victoria can be found at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Museum, and RMIT Gallery.

A local Tiwi man casting a fishing net (Photo: Phil Weymouth)

A local Tiwi man casting a fishing net (Photo: Phil Weymouth)

Australian rules football also plays a large role in Tiwi society, with roughly 900 of the 2,600 people living on the islands engaged in the Tiwi Australian Football League. This represents the highest football participation rate of any Australian community, at 35%. Notable Tiwi footballers include Maurice Rioli, Michael Long, Cyril Rioli, and David Kantilla.

Tough-fought action between the Tuyu Buffaloes and Imalu Tigers in the Tiwi Football League (Photo: Kelly Barnes)

Tough-fought action between the Tuyu Buffaloes and Imalu Tigers in the Tiwi Football League (Photo: Kelly Barnes)

Having not yet been to the islands, this information is all gathered from various sources and lacks the first-hand experience that soon I will *hopefully* be able to convey. However, there mere act of collating information and writing this post has made me incredibly excited to visit such an amazing location. In addition to my obvious interest in the fauna and flora of the islands, the culture and traditions of the Tiwi peoples are fascinating and represent an area in which I hope to gain a deeper understanding. The local interest in football is also a bonus, as I could be categorised as a somewhat obsessive AFL fan (carn the Lions!). Whilst it may be a while until I am lucky enough to set foot on the Tiwi islands, I find myself incredibly eager to engage with peoples of such a rich culture, and hope that my work will in some small way aid the conservation of such a unique and precious corner of the world.

* There are also 5 smaller, uninhabited islands which I can’t seem to find any information on. I doubt much exists.

REFERENCES:

[1] Woinarski J, Brennan K, Cowie I, Kerrigan R, and Hempel C (2003a) Biodiversity conservation on the Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory, Part 1: Plants and environments. 144pp. (Department of Infastructure Planning and Environment: Darwin).

[2] Woinarski J, Brennan K, Hempel C, Armstrong M, Milne D, and Chatto R (2003b) Biodiversity conservation on the Tiwi Islands, Northern Territorym Part 2: Fauna. 127pp. (Department of Infastructure Planning and Environment: Darwin).

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