Bathurst and Melville Islands located approximately 80 kilometres north of Darwin in the Arafura Sea, make up the Tiwi Islands. Collectively the Aboriginal population call themselves the Tiwi people. Nguiu is the largest of several Aboriginal communities on Bathurst Island. While there is basic infrastructure and food stores in the community, traditional customs such as hunting from the land and the sea for traditional foods is still an important part of Tiwi life.
Visitors need a permit to visit the Tiwi Islands and must go on an organised tour or fishing charter. The only exception is during March when the annual football grand final (which is accompanied by an art sale), is held in Nguiu. Visitors from all over the country flock to Bathurst Island for this sporting event.
Bathurst Island was first sighted by Europeans in 1644, when Abel Tasman passed on his way from Batavia. In 1911 a church minister, Father Gsell, persuaded the South Australian government to give him 10,000 acres of land on Bathurst Island to build a mission for the Tiwi people. Today Tiwi customs have intermixed with the catholic doctrines, producing an amalgam of Aboriginal and catholic signs, symbols and text. Not to be missed is the beautifully preserved wooden church built in the 1930s. No visit to Bathurst Island would be complete without a tour of its arts and craft galleries. The Tiwi people’s distinctive style is popular with collectors’ world-wide, who snap up bark paintings, textiles, pottery and wood carvings.