The annual day when the outside world spills into Australia’s remote Tiwi Islands for a local football grand final and art sale will return in 2021 — a year on from when the coronavirus outbreak triggered a snap shutdown of the Tiwis.
- Tourists were barred from entering the islands for the event in 2020
- A cyclone in 2018 also caused the day to be postponed
- The Tiwi Land Council says tourists are welcome and art centres are preparing for face-to-face sales
A ring fence was put up around the islands last year when, due to coronavirus precautions, Tiwi leadership restricted outside access to the famous cultural event that typically attracts thousands of tourists from around Australia.
But with the current suppression of coronavirus across Australia, Tiwi Land Council chief executive Andrew Tipungwuti said tourists would be welcome on the islands for the Sunday, March 21 showcase.
“There is no decision to axe the Tiwi grand final and art sale, that will go ahead as planned,” Mr Tipungwuti said.
“The communities are quite adamant that we need visitors back to the Tiwis to get our economy going. We are very proud we are going to continue with our grand final later this year, so let’s hope that nothing gets in the way of progress.”
However, Mr Tipungwuti said a coronavirus outbreak prior to the day could force the island’s leadership to consider restricting access to the Tiwis.
The island’s predominantly Aboriginal population of about 2,500 people is considered by health experts to be at high risk if coronavirus were to reach local communities.
“Certainly, we remain aware of the possibility of a second wave of COVID because our community safety is paramount,” Mr Tipungwuti said.
“Unfortunately, last year we missed out on having tourists, and at last-minute notice. The concern was if this virus got into our community we would be digging mass graves.
“Whatever decision we make, we are working with government closely and we do take the advice of the Chief Health Officer of the Northern Territory.”
Mr Tipungwuti said the Tiwi Land Council had been given no indication visitors posed a risk to the islands, but urged visitors who were planning on travelling for the day to remain vigilant to symptoms, sanitation practices and physical distancing.
“Common sense prevails: if you’re feeling crook, don’t go,” he said.
Mr Tipungwuti added that he was confident in the COVID-19 protocols of air and sea travel operators who would be ferrying tourists to the Tiwi community of Wurrumiyanga on Bathurst Island for the day.
Art centres prepped for mainland influx
The Tiwi grand final and art sale is — in a normal year — one of the most significant days of trade for the major art centres on the Tiwis.
These centres, including Tiwi Designs, Jilamara and Munupi, produce art from some of Australia’s most culturally significant artists.
Art centres are already preparing for big sales on the day, with 2020 restrictions having hit their coffers hard — a hit made more painful by the postponement of the event in 2018 due to Cyclone Marcus.
“We’re all getting ready here and everyone is producing work for March 21 to have a face-to-face art sale and footy final,” said Steve Anderson, manager at Tiwi Designs.
“It’s all guns blazing.”
Hannah Raisin, the manager of the Milikapiti-based Jilamara Arts, said the day would offer both excitement and relief for the art community after missing out in 2020.
“Everyone here and all the artists that would be travelling for the event are really hoping to catch up with friends and visitors who have been coming for many years,” she said.
“It’s also a chance to meet new people who have recently discovered Tiwi art and for artists to share their work and culture with visitors.”
Footy final a rare glimpse of Tiwi brilliance
Most travellers who shuffle off boats and ferries at Wurrumiyanga and spill into art centres will typically, by the end of the day, end up among the thousands lining the fences of Tiwi oval watching an exhilarating brand of Australian Rules football.
When the local Tiwi Island Football League grand final kicks off, spectators are treated to a snapshot of the skills and talent of Australia’s most gifted footballers — a group that includes stars such as Maurice Rioli, Cyril Rioli, Daniel Rioli, Austin Wonaeamirri and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti.
The 2021 grand final could see a cross-island clash between the undefeated Imalu Tigers from Melville Island and the currently second-placed Walama Bulldogs out of Bathurst Island.
But the coach of the fourth-placed Taracumbi Magpies, Connell Tipiloura, is hoping his team can defy its ladder position and make a late run to the grand final.
“Come over and watch the grand final,” said Tipiloura, a three-time Tiwi grand final winner.
“I would love to have a big crowd come and spectate.”
Last year’s Tiwi grand final, which marked half a century of the Tiwi Islands Football League, was won by the Ranku Eagles over the Tapalinga Superstars in front of local crowds.