We're just back from another exhilarating field trip to the Tiwi Islands off the NT coast, in the Arafura Sea.

This year our team of ambassadors, partners, board members and staff travelled from several cities and towns around Australia – Perth, the temperate Gold Coast, and chilly Melbourne and Sydney. With our super-strict luggage limit – very hard to stick to when you're carrying lots of books! – we hooked up at Darwin airport to catch the single engine plane to Pickertaramoor on Melville Island, the larger of the two islands.

Some of us were returning visitors, including songwriter and musician Chris Aitken, eager to see how much the kids had grown in a year and keen to work with some of the senior girls from Tiwi College on the edits and additional images for their new book. But for YA author and cartoonist Dave Hackett, and Norma MacDonald and Fern Martin, both artists and illustrators for Magabala Books, it was their first time in this beautiful but isolated part of Australia. So too for Louise Sherwin-Stark, Managing Director at Hachette, and Emily Harms from Readings Bookshops in Melbourne.



    '... an incredible experience ... to be immersed in the Tiwi schools and community life. 

    Emily Harms, Readings Bookshops, Melbourne

Tina had spent months with her thinking cap on, carefully planning and coordinationg the week's workshops. But whichever school we went to on Melville, nothing prepared us for the fanastic reception we were given and the kids' eagerness to read, write, draw, sing and perform. Still, there were quite a few cries of "Where's Andy? When's he coming back?" Clearly our wonderful ambassador Andy Griffiths, who travelled with us to the Island in 2013 has quite a fan club!

After our long travel we arrived at Pickertaramoor and was greeted by Ian Smith, Principal at Tiwi College, and his wife Annie. After settling into our home for the week, we were given an indepth and invaluable session about Tiwi people and culture. 

Early Tuesday morning our entire team headed across the island to Milikapiti School. Teaching Principal Suzanne Brogan welcomed us and told us about their school. Then the workshops began! From the pre-schoolers right through to the Year 9 students, everyone was involved.

Norma read her books Spinifex Mouse and The Stolen Girl to some classes while Fern inspired the children with new ideas of creating stories through art. In another classroom, Chris was working with a group eager to learn about songwriting. The rest of us couldn't wait to hear the results. Dave, aka Cartoon Dave, was busy drawing for another group of students and he had all the kids in balls of laughter as he drew many requests from the children.

We ended our day at Milikapiti School with a special presentation. We heared the powerful song created by a young group of students and every student got to choose their own book and other goodies to take home to read and enjoy. A great hit of the day was the new Bush Library that we trialled.


We were then treated to a guided tour by Tiwi man Brian Farmer at the local Jilamara Art and Craft Association where we spend the afternoon. We learned about Tiwi history and culture, and poured over spectactular Tiwi art.  

On Wednesday, we split into two groups and went our separate ways. Norma, Dave, Kristin and Tina headed almost due north-west to Pularumpi School and another warm welcome from Teaching Principal Kirsten Morey and students. Norma and Dave continued their wonderful workshop sessions with the children in the school. Again, the day at Pularumpi School ended with a special presentation. A display of all the students newly created works of art, sketches and cartoons decorated the room along with our gift of books. After selecting books to take home, many kids were eager to read and share their new books and were quickly engrossed in them.   

Back at Pickertaramoor, Fern worked first with the middle years boys and later with the girls. Chris spent the day with the senior boys, ..... Elsewhere in the college our Karen and Louise spent the day with the Senior Girls Class producing a glossary of Tiwi words, additional illustrations and photographs for their book.


    ... a profound experience seeing an Aboriginal-directed education college ... how happy the children are, how keen they are to learn and participate. It's a wonderful role model for Australia and for all Indigenous communities.

    Fern Martins

On Thursday, our last full day at Tiwi College, Chris and Dave worked collaboratively with the middle years girls and boys. As students came up with lyrics for their song, Dave illustrated the song with cartoons. Fern spent some time with the Primary School students who wrote and illustrated their own short stories. Norma demonstrated her sketching techniques to the Middle Years girls and encouraged them to sketch a cheeky spinifex mouse. At the end of the big day Emily, Sharon and a team cooked up a storm in preparation for the evening's community dinner. 


    ... a collaborative, exciting, productive and hugely satisfying experience. Just to see the interaction and outcomes, to see the kids singing their songs, reading their books, doing their artwork and being so proud of it. 

    Kristin Gill, Former ILF Board Director & Ambassador Co-ordinator

Very bright and early on the Friday, we were in the school library to hear the songs, stories and talk about the week with each class at Tiwi College. Every student got to choose a book, t-shirt and bag before it was "goodbye till next time" and we had to hot foot it to the little plane waiting to take us back to Darwin and our long connecting flights south and east.

The Indigenous Literacy Foundation would like to thank Tiwi College, Milikapiti School, Pularumpi School and Jilamarra Arts & Crafts Association. 

  • Posted 13 August, 2015

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