Situated off the northern coast of Australia within the Arafura Sea, Bathurst Island lies around 80 kilometres from Darwin. Together with nearby Melville Island, and nine other small, uninhabited islands, it makes up the Tiwi Islands which have been home to the indigenous Tiwi people for around 7,000 years.
Wurrumiyanga, previously known as Nguiu, is the largest Aboriginal town on Bathurst Island, situated in the southeastern corner, followed by the smaller settlement of Wurakuwu just to the north-west. The name Tiwi translates as “the people”, and after decades of government rule, its ownership was formally handed back to the Tiwi people in 1978. Tourists need a permit to visit and must come as part of an organised tour or fishing charter, except during the annual football grand final. There is little tourist infrastructure on the island, with a few basic food stores and guesthouses scattered throughout the communities, but it’s an ideal place to experience the traditional indigenous hunting and fishing customs that have been a part of Tiwi life long before European arrival. The Tiwi people are renowned for their distinct artistic style, with beautiful textiles, wood carvings, pottery, bark paintings and colourful “pukamanis” burial poles on display in the Mission Heritage Gallery. The well-preserved 1930s wooden church is another highlight on the island, exhibiting the unique fusion of indigenous Tiwi customs and Catholic beliefs that have resulted from the historic missions on Bathurst Island. Visit the Patakijiyali Museum in Wurrumiyanga to gain a deeper insight into the Tiwi Islands and its people, then explore the pristine rainforests and beaches which provide a home to the world’s largest colony of Crested Terns, together with endangered Olive Ridley turtles.
Air-connect operates flights from Darwin to Bathurst Island. Alternatively, there is a ferry which connects Darwin to Bathurst Island weekly.
The island was first sighted by Europeans in 1644 when Abel Tasman passed by and was named after the 3rd Earl Bathurst. A Roman Catholic mission was established here in the early 20th century, and it was a priest on Bathurst Island, Father John McGrath, who spotted the first wave of Japanese planes during the Bombing of Darwin.