Tiwi island aborigine australia

The Tiwi Islands: Bathurst and Melville – Northern Territory, Australia

Over the Top: Hunting and Gathering

All but unknown to the outside world, Bathurst and its sister island, Melville, are the ancestral home of Australia’s Tiwi Aborigines and provide the most fascinating cultural experience Australia has to offer.

Tiwi means “chosen people,” and for 40,000 years this culture developed separately from other Aboriginal groups, escaping the coloniza­tion suffered by those on the continent just 50 miles away—even the early Catholic mission­aries were culturally lenient, allowing many Tiwi beliefs to coexist with the newly imposed religion.

Today, non-Tiwi can visit the islands only as part of Tiwi-owned and-operated tours. Local guides assist in total immersion: four-wheel-drive forays into Bathurst bushland in search of traditional “tucker” for lunch may turn up bandicoot, wallaby, some nice carpet snake, or—why not?—mangrove worms.

After a rib-rattling jeep ride to the very edge of Australia, pull up on a mag­nificent beach facing the Timor Sea and Indonesia. The nearby Indonesian archipel­ago is reflected in the local textile crafts, with batik patterns still being created by local cooperatives.

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