Home > About the Tiwi Islands > History > Timeline: Dreamtime to 1978

Be mindful of the spread of COVID-19 we request mask wearing, keeping distances and hand sanitise where possible.

Timeline: Dreamtime to 1978

‘We have always said who can come to our country and who must go. Anyone who doesn’t respect that cops a spear.’

Matthew Wonaeamirri 

The Dreamtime

 

The creative time, before living memory, when Tiwi spirit ancestors created the land and sea in the form we know today; put the first people on the earth and gave them their land, law and language. Tiwi ("we, the only people") people created by spirit ancestors.

40,000+ years before the present

 

Human settlement of northern Australia begins; areas of Bathurst and Melville Islands probably a single land mass connected with mainland Australia.

15,000 years before the present

 

Rising sea levels at the end of the last Ice Age ends cut off Bathurst and Melville Islands from mainland, and create Aspley and Dundas Straits. Distinctive Tiwi culture evolves in isolation.

1636

 

Dutch navigator Pieter Pieterszoon, in ships Cleen Amsterdam and Wesel, explores north coasts of Tiwi Islands; lands at Tinganoo Bay and gets fresh water; names area "van Diemenslandt' (after the Dutch governor of East Indies).

1644

 

Dutch navigator Abel Tasman sails along the north coasts of Bathurst and Melville Islands and into Van Diemen Gulf. 

1700++

 

Tiwi make occasional raids to the mainland to capture wives: they have occasional contact with seafarers and Macassan trepangers; the Tiwi are renowned for hostility to outsiders.

1700++

 

It is possible that Portuguese slave traders from Timor raided the Tiwi Islands in the eighteenth century, reinforcing the traditional hostility to outsiders. 

1705

 

Dutch navigator Maarten van Delft, in ships Vosenbosch, Hollandia and Wajer spends weeks exploring the coastline of the Tiwi Islands, makes frequent landings and has prolonged contact with the Tiwi. His descriptions of the Tiwi are the most comprehensive writings about Australian Aborigines to that time. 

1740++

 

Occasional landings by Macassan seafarers, who were invariably killed as possible invaders. 

1751

 

Chinese navigator from Timor lands on the Tiwi Islands. 

1770

 

Captain James Cook describes the east coast of Australia. 

1788

 

Convict Settlement established at Port Jackson (Sydney). 

1803

 

French navigator Nicholas Baudin explores south-west coast of Bathurst Island. 

1818

 

British navigator Philip Parker King explores waters of the Tiwi islands region in detail.

17/5/1818

 

Philip Parker King and a party land on Melville Island - driven back to their boat by Tiwi people.

19/5/1818

 

Philip Parker King completes voyage through Apsley Strait into Van Diemen Gulf, proving that Bathurst and Melville Islands are separate.

30/9/1824

 

The British establish a military outpost at Fort Dundas, near Pirlangimpi, on Melville Island. This is the first British settlement in north Australia. 

1824-1829

 

The Tiwi keep the British besieged in a small area around Fort Dundas.

1826

 

Timorese Water Buffalo introduced to the Tiwi Islands at Fort Dundas to be used for milk, meat and heavy labour.

1829

 

Fort Dundas abandoned - largely because of Tiwi hostility. 

1887

 

Government party from Darwin explores Melville Island. 

1895

 

Entrepreneur E. O. Robinson organises a buffalo shooting party led by Joe Cooper to go to Melville Island. The party shoots more than 6,600 buffalo before withdrawing to the mainland in 1898.

1905

 

Joe Cooper and his family return to Melville Island to resume buffalo shooting and commence the harvesting and milling of native cypress pine (Callitris intratropica). Tiwi people visit Darwin and other mainland places with Cooper. The Cooper family say on the Tiwi Islands until 1915.

1909

 

Father Gsell establishes a Roman Catholic mission at Nguiu (Wurrumiyanga) on Bathurst Island. He is joined by a second priest and Sisters in 1912 and 1913. Father Gsell distributes food and tobacco in return for work. 

1911

 

Father Gsell, with four Filipinos begins mission work at Nguiu (Wurrumiyanga).

1914

 

Vestey Brothers (British meat company) leases Melville Island for buffalo shooting; shooting carried on until 1916. The leases were surrendered in 1933.

1922

 

Father Gsell begins a system of ‘purchase’ of Tiwi women, then allocating them to younger husbands and arranging Christian marriages.

1928

 

The Tiwi population estimated at about 1,062. 

1929+

 

Japanese pearlers become active around the islands and establish bases on Melville Island. They buy women and leave children. Garden Point (Pirlangimpi) is a source of fresh water and becomes a central trading point for Tiwi women. This practice continues until war breaks out. 

1934

 

Lay missionary Peter de Hayer arrives on Bathurst Island and commences a building program, which continues until his death in 1958. 

1936

 

Patrol boat Larrakia sent to control Japanese activities around the Tiwi Islands. 

1937

 

Garden Point on Melville Island established as a police post because of concerns about the activities of Japanese luggers. 

1938

 

Father Gsell leaves Bathurst Island to become the Bishop of Darwin. 

1939

 

RAAF airfield established on Bathurst Island. 

1940

 

A mission was founded at Garden Point (Pirlangimpi) by the Roman Catholic Missionaries of the Sacred Heart as a home for mixed-blood children, both local part-Japanese and those removed from their families in other parts of the Northern Territory. 

1940

 

Patrol Officer, Bill Harney, rounds up Tiwi people in Darwin and takes them to Garden Point (Pirlangimpi) on Melville Island. Soon after they were moved to Snake Bay (Milikapiti) on Melville Island. 

1940+

 

Brothers Bennett and Connors bring 50 boys and 43 girls to Garden Point (Pirlangimpi) to establish a new mission for ‘incorrigibles’ or part-Aboriginal children.

1942+

 

The part-Aboriginal children are relocated to Snake Bay (Milikapiti) on Melville Island; Patrol Officer John Gribble establishes Coastwatches and enlists Tiwi support.

1942

 

Girls and nuns evacuated from Garden Point (Pirlangimpi) but boys remain. Bathurst Island mission attached in prelude to air raids on Darwin. Matthias Ullungurra captures the first Japanese Prisoner of War on Australian soil.

1942-1945

 

Tiwi people play an active part in supporting the armed services in World War II. Many people work in small ships services and at mainland bases.

1944

 

Radio Direction Finding station established at Cape Fourcroy on Bathurst Island.

1945+

 

Bathurst Island mission redeveloped in the post war period. Girls returned to Garden Point (Pirlangimpi).

1945+

 

Native Affairs Branch settlement established at Snake Bay as military forces withdraw from the area. The Native Affairs Branch begins forestry programs as a basis for self-sufficiency.

1952

 

St Mary’s Football Club established in Darwin to create a recreational focus for Tiwi people in the town.

1954

 

Tiwi population estimated at 950.

1955

 

House building program begins at Nguiu (Wurrumiyanga) on Bathurst Island.

1960+

 

Welfare Branch begins active development programs on the Tiwi islands.

1961

 

Tribal Council established to begin training Tiwi to take control of their own affairs.

1965

 

Plantings of Caribbean Pine for forestry commence on Melville Island.

1967

 

Garden Point (Pirlangimpi) taken over by the Welfare. 

1968

 

Tiwi Designs art complex established in a small room underneath the Catholic Presbytery at Nguiu (Wurrumiyanga) on Bathurst Island.

1969

 

Bima Wear, a fabric printmaking and clothing business, established at Nguiu (Wurrumiyanga) on Bathurst Island.

1972

 

New self-determination policies adopted for administration of Aboriginal affairs.

1974

 

Hyacinth Tungutalum (14/8/46 - 7/4/09) elected as the Country Liberal Party member for the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly's Electoral division of Tiwi. Hyacinth was the first Indigenous Australian to be elected to a state or territory parliament.

1978

 

Tiwi Land Council established under the Commonwealth Land Rights Act.