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Tiwi country

A photo of bushland populated with tall trees. The backdrop is a bright blue sky.
Tiwi country

Give and take

Pedro Wonaeamirri, Tiwi, 2013:

I want to share this culture of mine with other cultures, to understand about Tiwi Islands ... It makes me really strong and very proud of who I am. And where do I come from and what language do I speak – it’s Tiwi.

In Tiwi belief, the creation figure Mundangkala moved across the landscape, forming the Tiwi Islands. It is a place with a distinct culture. Objects like tunga (bark baskets) and pukumani poles are only made by Tiwi people.

By the early 20th century, the Tiwi were trading cultural items such as spears, dance ornaments and baskets to Darwin’s growing non-Indigenous population.

Jedda Puruntatameri, Tiwi, 2013:

There’s this give and take – I’ll give you this, and you pay me this, or give me some money.

In 1912, Dr William Dawson briefly served as Port Darwin’s quarantine officer. During his short stay, Dawson collected some 50 items, mostly from Melville Island. Frustratingly, he left almost no information about the people he met or the objects he collected.

Gibson Farmer Illortamini, Tiwi, 2013:

Our material goes away and Tiwi people don’t know about it.

Old objects

Basket made of folded bark with a geometric design painted with pigment. - click to view larger image
Tunga (bark basket)

In 1913, Dawson gave his collection from northern Australia, including this tunga (bark basket) pictured right, to the British Museum. After his posting in Darwin, he returned south and worked in Newcastle, New South Wales.

Kenny Brown, Tiwi, 2013:

We want to share objects with people, so they can understand what we do, and how we do it ... They can see what I’m doing now – they can learn.

Gibson Farmer Illortamini, Tiwi, 2013:

It’s a very good thing that we know where all our stuff is around the world. And we need someone to go and explain the story to these people. Like the tunga, you need someone to go and explain to them what they used for ceremony purposes. People need to understand what these symbols are for.
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