Grand Final day on the Tiwi Islands and the mercury is above 35. The locals are out in force displaying mostly red, white and black colours but there’s a few with blue and white. Passionate about their football the Tiwi islanders became a little famous this year after an ABC documentary on their local team the Bombers being accepted into the Northern Territory’s football league.
So where are the Tiwi Islands? Just on top of Darwin a 20 minute plane trip or a two-hour ferry ride from will get you there. The islands are made up of Melville and Bathurst Island, the latter of which we were staying on. The islands look perfect from the sky with their ideal beaches and dense scrubland but you’ll never see anyone swimming at those beaches unless they want to go toe-to-toe with a four-metre-long saltwater crocodile.
The islands are made up predominately of Indigenous people and being there was like being in a completely different country. We were there to visit my brother who teaches sports and English at the Xavier Catholic High School. As he was showing us around the island I could hear 10CC’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ pumping out of someone’s speaker and just then I was struck by the island’s familiarity and distance to my world.
Before the walk my brother pointed out a stick at his front door telling us if we ever walked around at night we would have to take it with us. When I asked why he explained if we were ever attacked by the packs of stray dogs roaming the island we could use it to defend ourselves. Thankfully we never had to use it.
Walking down the street my brother also pointed spikes on the telephone poles and asked us what we thought they were there for. Innocently I said to keep animals from frying themselves and casually my brother replied, “Nahh, it’s to stop people hanging themselves.” A little shocking to say the least but still a bit more shocked and how casual he was about it. I guess it goes to show how a person can adapt to anything.
The Tiwi people were kind, easygoing and friendly, just like anybody else. I guess you grow up with preconceptions of different cultures and I’m always stunned to find that inherently all people are the same. Although my brother told me it’s near to impossible to organise anything with because they all just live in the moment. Without a care in the world they just go through life seemingly content to stay where they are and just do whatever they do.
We watched Blood Diamond one night; the Leonardo DiCaprio film about the illegal diamond trade in Africa. In one scene DiCaprio goes through all the horrible things happening over and over again in Africa and at the end of his speech brushes it off and when asked why just replies “TIA, This is Africa.” My brother remarked TIT pretty much sums up the other worldly nature of islands as well.
The western culture clash could be pretty amusing at times as well. One of the highlights of my trip was seeing a teenage islander in an Exploited singlet with ‘Punk’s Not Dead’ on the back. How any subculture could exist on this remote island amazed me but just goes to show how music has no boundaries.
On the morning of the Grand Final through some miracle my brother had organised the groundskeeper Hadley to take us out fishing on his boat. Before the trip we had to take namely getting a fuel tank, getting fuel and getting ice. These tasks required us driving around the town stopping at numerous houses and with almost every stop gaining a new member. By the time we were in the boat our group of four had grown to seven including a small girl who I was told was the niece of his sister’s cousin… Or cousin’s sister… Or sister of his niece…
The trip was a success and we decided to leave and get ready for the Grand Final after feeling an esky with fish. I put the success down to the Tiwi Island fishing method of leaving a spot if you don’t get a bite in a minute. It sure beats the whitefella way of just sitting there for two hours waiting for your first bite and drinking yourself stupid.
There is a fair bit more to the place but I thought I might placate John with this and get down to all the other things that need doing.