Tiwi Story: Turning History Downside Up

Mavis Kerinaiua, Laura Rademaker

Tiwi Story: Turning History Downside Up
NewSouth Publishing
1 September 2023

Tiwi Story: Turning History Downside Up

Mavis Kerinaiua, Laura Rademaker

Tiwi people have plenty to be proud of. This little tropical island community has more than its fair share of surprising stories that turn ideas of Australian history upside down.

The Tiwi claim the honour of having defeated a global superpower. When the world’s most powerful navy attempted to settle and invade the Tiwi Islands in 1824, Tiwi guerrilla warriors fought the British and won. The Tiwi remember the fight and oral histories reveal their tactical brilliance.

Later, in 1911, Catholic priest Francis Xavier Gsell styled himself as the ‘Bishop with 150 wives’. Gsell said he ‘purchased’ Tiwi women and ‘freed’ them from traditional Tiwi marriage, and Tiwi girls grew up into devoted Catholics. But Tiwi women had more power in their marriage negotiations than the missionaries realised. They worked out how to be both Tiwi and Catholic. And it was the missionaries who came around to Tiwi thinking, not the other way around.

Then there are stories of the Tiwi people's ‘number one religion’: Aussie Rules Football; the eldest living Tiwi woman, Calista Kantilla, remembers her time growing up in the mission dormitory; and Tiwi Traditional Owner Teddy Portaminni explains the importance of Tiwi history and culture, as something precious, owned by Tiwi and the source of Tiwi strength.

Tiwi Story showcases stories of resilience, creativity and survival, as told by the Tiwi people.

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