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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.



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).



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



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.



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



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. 



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



Chinese navigator from Timor lands on the Tiwi Islands. 



Captain James Cook describes the east coast of Australia. 



Convict Settlement established at Port Jackson (Sydney). 



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



Fort Dundas abandoned - largely because of Tiwi hostility. 



Government party from Darwin explores Melville Island. 



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.



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.



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. 



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



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



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



The Tiwi population estimated at about 1,062. 



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. 



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



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



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



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



RAAF airfield established on Bathurst Island. 



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. 



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. 



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.



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



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.



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.



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



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



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.



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



Tiwi population estimated at 950.



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



Welfare Branch begins active development programs on the Tiwi islands.



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



Plantings of Caribbean Pine for forestry commence on Melville Island.



Garden Point (Pirlangimpi) taken over by the Welfare. 



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



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



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



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.



Tiwi Land Council established under the Commonwealth Land Rights Act.