Friday 23rd June 2006
Our guides Teabag and John told us of Fr Francis Xavier Gsell who established an Aboriginal mission at Nguiu on Bathurst Island in 1910 and worked there until 1938. During Bishop Gsell’s time, Catholic schools were established in Darwin, on Bathurst Island (two schools: St Therese’s and Xavier Boys’ Schools), and at the Santa Teresa Mission in Central Australia.
The story of Creation of the Tiwi Islands is a fascinating one. When the earth was flat and in darkness, an old blind woman, Mudungkala rose out of the ground during Palaneri time (dreaming) carrying three infants. and started going north. In her tracks, the fresh water that bubbled forth became the Dundas Strait.
After travelling on, forming the Tiwi Islands and their waterways in her wake, she then said the islands were to be inhabited with animals and covered with vegetation so that her three children would have food. She moved south, leaving her children behind and disappeared.
The Dundas Strain separates Melville and Bathurst Island from Mainland Australia and Nguiu is around 80 kms north of Darwin.
The interior of St. Therese's Roman Catholic Church is beautifully decorated in the Tiwi design.
Teabag told us the Tiwis follow the old rules - strict rules by today's standards in Australia and elsewhere.
Brothers and sisters are not allowed to talk to each other after puberty. If he wanted to give his sister a book, he must leave it in a place - he indicated the hollow of a tree. A message would be sent along by several people, and then his sister would come and collect the book.
Not until they were both old and grey haired could they meet and speak with each other.
There are four skin groups - mullet, pandanus, sun and stone - and when a young man is looking for a wife, two of those groups are taboo. Talking to a member of the opposite sex from the wrong skin group meant a very harsh punishment - they were beaten with a long punishment stick which broke their knees and elbows. Today it is more modern - the family gets together and gives them a flogging with smaller sticks.