Visit the Tiwi Islands for a taste of authentic islander life

By Anna Kantafilas 10 June 2021
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The Tiwi Islands is a treasure trove of Indigenous art, fantastic fishing and a unique style of Aussie Rules footy.

The Tiwi Islands, a chain of 11 islands that sit just 80km north of Darwin, are home to spectacular fishing, distinctive art, exotic landscapes, a rich culture, and a style of Australian Rules football unlike any other in Australia. Every March, it all comes together for the Tiwi Islands football grand final and art sale. As the only day of the year people can visit without a permit, the eclectic festival brings thousands of travellers across the Beagle Gulf to Bathurst Island – which is half the size of the opposing Melville Island – via plane, ferry and car. 

While the grand final takes centre stage, art, history and culture also play a part, with visitors able to wander through the Patakijiyali Museum, explore the town, and pore over hundreds of pieces of art where earthy colours made only from ochre decorate varied items in geometric patterns that are signatory of the islands’ unmistakable style. 

Aboriginal artist working on a painting at Jilamara Arts and Craft Association, using a kayimwagakimi, the traditional Tiwi painting ‘comb’. Jilamara Arts and Craft Association is located at Milikapiti, on the shores of Snake Bay with glorious views of the Arafura Sea, and is home to 500 Tiwi.

The magnum opus of the day, however, is the grand final, and on this occasion home team the Walama Bulldogs take on the Imalu Tigers from Melville Island. The grass covering Wurrumiyanga Oval is a stark contrast to the red earth that forms most of the roads and pathways around town. In true Tiwi form, grey clouds cast a dampened shadow over earlier blue skies, sending torrential rains down as nature’s offering of a grand drape. Moments before the starting siren sounds, the curtains lift and the sun makes its way back into the spotlight. The boundary of the oval is framed by supporters, many of whom have travelled from all over the islands to witness the game, their dedication evident when the rest of the visitors shelter to avoid downpours.

Between the displays of astounding football talent, and the ardent atmosphere of the crowd, it’s hard not to get caught up in the suspense of the final few minutes of play. Walama kick a goal moments before the final siren sounds, and a sea of red, blue and white rush to the middle of the field to celebrate the win. Colourful flags wave through the air, and men and women break out into dance to celebrate football. It’s a final display of how art, culture and football come together as one at the Tiwi Islands grand final. 

Visit the Tiwi islands with Brilliant Travels.

Take a day trip to the Tiwi Islands

The Tiwi Islands are a must-do on any NT itinerary and SeaLink NT provides a fast and reliable passenger ferry up to four days a week between the Cullen Bay Ferry Terminal in Darwin and the town of Wurrumiyanga (formerly known as Nguiu) on board a high-speed catamaran, MV Tiwi Mantawi. They also run themed day tours that immerse visitors in the art and culture of the communities. Prices start at about $349 for adults.

Visit Sealink for details of all available tours and ferry fares. Permits are needed to visit the islands except for Grand Final Day.

Darwin Harbour