acquired August 10, 2019
Folklore and Science Meet at Tiwi
- Landsat 8 - OLI
- Data Date: August 10, 2019
- Visualization Date: December 17, 2019
According to ancient folklore, the creation of the main Tiwi Islands—Bathurst and Melville—can be traced to an old blind woman named Mudungkala. As the world was taking form during the Palaneri (or “dreaming” phase), Mudungkala rose from the Earth in the southeast of Melville Island. Crawling on her knees, she carried her three infants and slowly traveled north.
As she made her journey, fresh water bubbled up in her wake, creating tides and the Clarence and Dundas Straits that separate the islands from mainland Australia today. As she continued around the landmass, she decided it was too large and formed the Apsley Strait to divide the island into two. She then covered the bare islands with vegetation and animals so her children could have food once she left. Once the islands were complete, she vanished, leaving no clues about where she went.
The images on this page show various scenes of the Tiwi Islands, which are part of Australia’s Northern Territory and located about 60 kilometers (40 miles) north of Darwin. Both images were acquired on August 10, 2019, by the Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite.
acquired August 10, 2019
The Tiwi folklore may not be far off from how the islands developed. Researchers interpret the narrative as a story of the landmass settling and then experiencing subsequent flooding—an ancient account of sea level rise. The Tiwi Islands were once connected to continental Australia, but rapid sea level rise separated the islands from the mainland and each other. Researchers have calculated that the flooding around the Tiwi Islands occurred between 8,200 and 9,650 years ago.
Because the islands were isolated from mainland Australia, the Tiwi people developed a distinct culture over thousands of years. Tiwi (which means “one people”) speak one language, although there may be three to four different variations of the language. About 90 percent of the 3,000 island inhabitants are Aborigines. The most populous town is Milikapti, home to around 450 people.
Climate change might bring more sea level changes in the future. Climate projections predict a further increase in air temperature, tropical cyclones, storm surge height, and sea surface temperature around this part of Australia. And researchers have predicted that the region could experience sea level rise up to 1.1 meters (3.6 feet) by 2100.
References and Further Reading
- Australia Guide to the Tiwi Islands. Accessed December 17, 2019.
- Local Government Association of the Northern Territory (2010, November 29) Climate Change Risk Assessment and Adaptation Planning Tiwi Islands Shire Council. Accessed December 17, 2019.
- Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (2015, December 21) Being Tiwi: the work of 9 artists from the Tiwi Islands. Accessed December 17, 2019.
- Scientific American (2015, January 26) Ancient Sea Rise Tale Told Accurately for 10,000 Years. Accessed December 17, 2019.
- Sinchi Foundation The Tiwi Islands. Accesssed December 17, 2019.
- Smith, H. and Smith, B. (2008) Portrait of a People: The Tiwi of Northern Australia. (Heide Smith Photographer)
- Tiwi Land Council History. Accessed December 17, 2019.