Tiwi Islands fishing lodges provide a unique Top End getaway for visitors while helping secure the future of the people who live there.

Story By David Hancock

It took less than an hour for 15-year-old John Wonaeamirri to decide his future: two mangrove jacks and a small barramundi were enough to convince the young Tiwi Islander that he would become a fishing guide. “This is the life for me,” he says with a wide smile as he casts a lure close to the mangroves. Even more poignant for John is that he is fishing Goose Creek on Melville Island, a spectacular waterway that is the traditional country of his family and ancestors.
John and Hayden Whiting are work experience students from Tiwi College, a primary and secondary institute built specially by Tiwi Islanders to educate and direct their young people towards employment on their homelands of Bathurst and Melville islands, 100 kilometres off Darwin in the Timor Sea.
Like many Top End Indigenous communities, the Tiwis have struggled with educating and finding work for their young people. In the past, many kids flew to Darwin to study and live at boarding schools. This was distressing for parents and children, alike. For a period during the late 1990s and early 2000s, suicide rates were high among Tiwi Islanders.
Concerned by social dislocation and homesickness, elders undertook to build Tiwi College at Pickertaramoor, an old forestry camp on Melville Island. It was opened in 2008 and presently caters for 72 students who come from the three main communities of Wurrumiyanga (Bathurst Island), and Pirlangimpi and Milikapiti on Melville Island.
The Tiwis have an established forestry industry on the verge of generating millions of export dollars from woodchip. Local art centres are acclaimed for the talented painters and carvers, and the Tiwis are also known as excellent sportspeople. Because the islands are a short flight from Darwin, they are popular with tourists who wish to visit an Indigenous community.
One of the most successful local businesses, Tiwi Islands Adventures (TIA), provides a range of remote holiday experiences, including professionally guided sports fishing, wildlife safaris and nature tours. TIA operates three high-quality, award-winning fishing lodges at Port Hurd (Bathurst Island), Milikapiti and Johnson River (Melville Island).
While the Bathurst Island and Johnson River lodges are in remote locations accessible by light aircraft, four-wheel-drive and boat, Melville Island Lodge operates from atop a cliff overlooking Snake Bay, at Milikapiti, a community of 400 people. The lodge is popular among recreational fishers because it offers a variety of blue water and estuarine fishing. It is rated as offering some of the best fishing in Australia and one of the most comfortable lodges.

This Story is from Issue #98

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2015