Bathurst Island - Darwin, NT

Bathurst Island

Approximately 80km off Darwin lie the Tiwi Islands. Comprised of Bathurst and Melville islands, the latter being Australia’s largest island behind Tasmania, retain their own distinct culture.

For thousands of years the Tiwi Islanders thought they were the only people in the world until the 1600’s when they encountered Indonesian fisherman. Then in 1911 the main settlement, and capital, Nguiu was founded by a catholic mission on the banks of the Apsley Straight. Catholicism together with the islander’s traditions and beliefs have lived hand in hand ever since. Close by to the Catholic Church sits a small wooden shed where in 1942 a Catholic priest frantically sent a radio message to Darwin whilst dozens of Japanese bombers passed overhead. Alas his message was ignored and Darwin went on to be bombed. The shed sits close by to the museum that explores many of the Tiwi’s stories and traditions, and is well worth a look.

The Tiwi island aboriginals are internationally recognised for their paintings, wood carving, textiles, basket weaving and beautifully carved pukamani (burial) poles. Samples of the local art can be seen throughout the islands with beautiful paintings adorning nearly every building. Australian Rules Football is a passion on the Tiwi Islands. The islands boast such AFL greats Michael Long (Essendon) and Maurice Rioli (Richmond). Their passion for the sport is exhibited each year in March with the Tiwi Islands Football League Grand Final.

This is easily the biggest event on the island calendar with hundreds of people travelling to the capital from around the islands and from Darwin. The grand final coincides with an annual art sale (held at Tiwi Art in Nguiu) where a cooperative of art groups from the islands display their works. This is the only day of the year when a visitor permit is not required. If you would like to visit the islands a permit is required so it’s best to join a recognised tour group.

The best time to visit is between May and October if you wan to avoid the monsoonal rains. Flights to the island take around 15 minutes and leave from Darwin Airport. Tiwi Travel ( fly to Bathurst three times a day mid-week and twice a day to Melville. Tickets range from $75 to $110 one-way.Photograph supplied by Paula O'Callaghan

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Darwin, NT, 800