My partner sighed as I bought a pandanus headband from a village woman. “You’ll never get that back into Australia,” he said. “Actually we are in Australia,” I reminded him, but the mental lapse was understandable. Catching a SeaLink ferry to the pristine Tiwi Islands, 80 kilometres off the coast of Darwin, it’s easy to forget where you are.
Indeed, until the release earlier this year of Miranda Tapsell’s Top End Wedding film, most Australians had probably never even thought of visiting these lush tropical islands. Notable exceptions are Princess Mary, who ordered her Danish wedding feast’s barramundi from here, and AFL talent scouts: Cyril Rioli and Michael Long are among the stars who have been recruited from this footie-mad community. “You should see us on Grand Final Day. We women have a footie song and a footie dance we perform,” one of the women beams.
Footie games and sorry days (funerals) are also the rare occasions the Tiwi Islanders put aside their strict family segregation rules. With a population of 2500, nearly 90 per cent Aboriginal, a healthy gene pool is crucial. Brothers and sisters are forbidden to have even eye contact after puberty, and there are four main skin groups: Fish, Rock, Pandanus and Sun. “Pandanus can’t marry Fish. Rock can’t marry Sun,” I’m told. Men are also forbidden to speak to their mother-inlaw, although they have to obey her every order – that’s more for mental health reasons, they joke.
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