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A Glimpse into the Past

Oct 7, 2008

Location: Bathurst Island
Author: Aaron Flaster
I don’t even know where to begin describing this epic day. With four days of anticipation and excitement building up over passage, I half expected to be greeted by half-naked Aboriginals brandishing drums and spears when we got ashore. The island is inhabited by about 1500 people, mainly Aboriginals who have transformed to modern day technology. They love rugby (footy), aren’t afraid to show off century old dances, and many still hunt and gather local fish and game even though there is a small grocery store. I also didn’t meet one person who wasn’t skilled at some form of Aboriginal art like paintings, carvings, and baskets. The island is simple, but full of culture and smiles where English is the second language. We were transported around town in small buses, and our first stop was a small museum that was filled to the brim with history about how their way of life has changed over the past century when the first missionaries came. Only one century ago the story about how Tiwi’s first came to Nguiu (the name of this town, and Tiwi Islands refers to Bathurst and Melville Islands) is that an old woman sprung from the Earth with three children, two girls and one boy, and when she found a suitable place to leave the children (Tiwi Islands) she left them and when the kids became adults, one sister wanted to have a baby so the brother searched the island and found a man who said he would send a spirit to his sister in two days, and low and behold she became pregnant. This is just my touristy summary, so ask your child for clarification. There were tons of other cool facts and pictures covering every inch of the walls, like old fighting sticks, photos of dance rituals, and random stories like the Aborigine who had a heart attack the first time he saw a car. Morning tea is a daily routine here but consists of baking bread by burying the dough under hot ashes, which actually tastes really good, and hot cup of tea to add to the existing hot air. The three local guides that lead our tour for the day and two older, local women painted their faces and did several traditional dances. Each Aboriginal is given an animal nickname that they use in old rituals, and each animal name comes with a specific face-paint pattern. These names are also passed down from generation to generation from the person’s father’s side. We were all given good spirits by being rubbed with a certain bush, which also got rid of all the bad spirits we brought from the mainland. Next we stopped at several arts and crafts shops where we got to watch the locals make carvings and paintings; one local told us how Whoopie Goldberg bought one of his pieces back in the States. We stopped at an old church that was built by the missionaries that had art all over the inside walls; then we went to a billabong (aka swimming hole) where one of the guides caught a huge lizard. Lastly, we drove by the cemetery which is one of the most sacred places on the island. It was awesome seeing everyone chat with the locals and share stories about home and SeaMester. If the day wasn’t full enough already, the night ended with a huge lightning storm (off in the distance) which was more spectacular than any fireworks show I’ve seen!