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Tiwi Story

Turning history downside up

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‘I believe history is for healing. But you need to tell the whole story, the good and the bad. Telling the truth to the younger ones, the next generation, will make them strong.’ — Mavis Kerinaiua

The Tiwi people have more than their fair share of stories that turn ideas of Australian history upside down.

The Tiwi claim the honour of defeating a global superpower.

When the world’s most powerful navy invaded and attempted to settle the Tiwi Islands in 1824, Tiwi warriors fought the British and won. The Tiwi remember the fight, and oral histories reveal their tactical brilliance.

Later, in 1911, Catholic priest Francis Xavier Gsell decided to ‘purchase’ Tiwi women and ‘free’ them from traditional marriage, so girls would grow up into devoted Catholics.

But Tiwi women had more power in marriage negotiations than missionaries realised. They worked out how to be both Tiwi and Catholic. And it was the missionaries who came around to Tiwi thinking.

Then there are stories of the Tiwi people’s ‘number one religion’: Aussie Rules; Calista Kantilla remembers her time growing up in the mission dormitory; and Teddy Portaminni explains the importance of Tiwi history and culture as something precious, owned by Tiwi and the source of Tiwi strength.

In Tiwi Story, Mavis Kerinaiua, Laura Rademaker and Tiwi historians showcase stories of resilience, creativity and survival.

Tiwi Story is a powerful collection of pieces written by Tiwi people about their experiences of colonisation. Their recounts are an important telling of past and present issues confronting Tiwi people and their culture, shining a necessary spotlight on a history of forced assimilation and suppression of Indigenous culture and language. This book is a testament to the strength of the Tiwi people and provides insight into the ongoing impact of colonisation on Indigenous cultures.’ — Terri Janke

‘The writers’ deep connection to the people and places involved adds extra poignancy to each story and moment. Tiwi Story is a brilliant contribution to the history we tell about Australia.’ — Vuma Phiri, Books+Publishing