Journey to Tiwi Islands

Journey to Tiwi Islands

This year our Foundation’s annual Ambassador Field Trip took us far north - out of the cold and into the cool dry season. We travelled from Darwin in a Cessna 402 (which really just means small plane) northwest across the Arafura Sea to the Tiwi Islands - a group of 2 large Islands – Melville and Bathurst - and many smaller islands.

The idea of two-way learning was central to planning the weeklong trip. Our team of ten including ambassadors, key stakeholders and volunteers were teachers – sharers of stories, information, ideas and techniques – and they were students - learners, listeners and observers. It was an opportunity for our team to learn about the Tiwi people just as much as they were to teach and support the children in writing and telling stories.

Like other Indigenous peoples, Tiwi people have a strong living culture that is unique and specific to their lands. Our group were privileged and delighted to participate in cultural activities and speak to traditional owners of their land. From guided tours of country, glimpses of traditional dances to hunting bush foods – a rare and remarkable experience. 

Our amazing ambassadors – Andy Griffiths, Leonie Norrington and John Danalis – carried out captivating literacy sessions to over 200 children in three schools on Melville Island: Tiwi College, Milikapiti and Pularumpi School. Story-telling is a huge part of Tiwi culture so the children were quickly absorbed in the stories our ambassadors told. This generated much enthusiasm and engaged the children in sharing and telling their own stories. The children then began mapping out and writing their stories down. There were funny stories, scary stories; stories about family, community and culture. There were non-fiction and fiction stories – or as one student put it “false stories”. With minimal knowledge of the children and a range in literacy levels, this was a challenging task for our ambassadors but they did a phenomenal job. Hats off to them!

The Principal of Tiwi College, Ian Smith, said: “The school is honoured to have such visitors. We often have visits from elite athletes, ALF Players and other sports stars. But these authors are the equivalent in their field, the elite of writing children’s stories.”

Ian was hopeful that the trip will have lasting impressions on the children and that the developing relationships between the children, ambassadors and our foundation will continue to grow.

The trip was filled with conversations, sharing and learning between our team and the Tiwi people. Stories that will be remembered, written down and passed on. I know the visit to the Tiwi Islands will certainly have a lasting impression on our ambassadors and all who participated.

A special thanks:  Tiwi College hosted our team for the week and we are blown away by the hospitality and commitment of the Principal and teachers. We would also like to thank the tremendous efforts of Principals Neville Marks – Pularumpi School;  Suzanne Brogan – Milikapiti School; and Geoff Perry – Top End Group Schools, who gave our group a special briefing on the evening of our field visit. Their passion for literacy and support for our foundation helped make the trip such a memorable experience. 



    "Seeing the work of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation in action on a recent field trip to the Tiwi Islands was an unexpected privilege and an experience that will remain with me for a very long time. The material comforts that most of us accept as the norm were not evident but the people were overwhelmingly friendly, welcoming and outwardly happy.


    Working in the classrooms with the ILF Ambassadors Andy Griffiths, Leonie Norrington and John Danalis it was apparent that, despite their enthusiasm to learn, the range of literacy skills among the children was diverse and it confirmed in my mind why it is important that the National Library of Australia and its Bookshop support the ILF through its participation in Indigenous Literacy Day and fundraising events, as it has since 2007.


    Maureen Brooks, Manager Publications, Sales & Promotion, National Library of Australia, said:


  • Posted 07 August, 2013

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