The Worlds Oldest Civilisation - Indigenous Australians

Heide Smiths Tiwi Collection



Ngiya Mamante Tiwi -My Friends the Tiwi

50,000 years ago, the Tiwi people settled on Bathurst and Melville Islands 60 km north of Darwin Australia. The Tiwi are Indigenous Australians, the world's oldest civilisation.

12,000 years ago, the last ice age ended, resulting in sea levels around the Tiwi Islands rising by 140 metres and isolating the Tiwi. They developed a separate language, and a culture which differs in many ways to Aboriginal culture in the rest of Australia.

110 years ago, when Catholic Missionaries arrived, the Tiwi were hunter gatherers; there were no permanent settlements.

33 years ago, I visited the Islands for the first time. I fell in love with the people and started to photograph them. Two books, numerous exhibitions, and thousands of photographs later, I am still photographing them.

about the tiwi

It is not easy to fit into a group of people who are so connected to land and nature around them, but I had help. Gerardine, a highly respected Tiwi elder became my sister. She was my guide and interpreter, and the Tiwi accepted me from then on. The Tiwi Collection would not exist if not for Gerardine’s help.

There was of course the physical discomfort of heat and the lack of ameneties. Then there was the language, cultural  sensitivities ... It was a new world for me and I took it all in.

When you sleep in a swag under the stars, listening to the waves of the sea, you don't think of crocodiles moving closer or snakes seeking the warmth of your swag. You know somehow that your new friends are watching over you. That you are safe.

This is what I found living with the Tiwi people:  They are extremely sensitive and caring once they have accepted you. This is so different from the world we Whites now live in.

And this is the world that I want to share with you over the next month or so, with my Tiwi Collection


evening camp

a "friendly" croc

my sister Gerardine


To see or not to see. That is the question.

Content Censorship is now a way of life for bloggers posting on Social Media. Unfortunately, the technology cannot differentiate between photographs of an ancient people practicing their culture and pornography. Fortunately, my website containing The Tiwi Collection does not appear to offend anyone. So if you would like to see ALL of my Tiwi photographs, have a look at my website


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2 comments on “Worlds Oldest Civilisation 1”

  1. GV Rosenlund Reply

    Where would the Tasmanian. Aboriginal people be in relation to the Tiwi, had there not been a genocide of them? My question doesn’t have to be published necessarily.

    • Brian Smith Reply

      Hi Mr/Mrs Rosenlund, thanks for a fascinating question. I don’t think that I am qualified to answer it, but I will make a few observations.
      If the massacres/genocide had not taken place, Tasmanian Aboriginals would probably be more advanced in terms of education, health, technological skills etc, than the Tiwi. Historically, nations or people, have always learnt new skills and ideas from engagement with other nations or people. Tasmania was occupied by the British in 1804, who remained there as Brits or Australians until today. Fort Dundas was built by the British on Melville Island in 1824, but they only occupied it until 1828. It was not until 1911 that the Catholic Church developed a settlement on Bathurst Island.
      However, the Tiwi Islands were first visited by the Macassans over 500 years ago, to fish and to trade with the Tiwi. As recently as 1890, Japanese Pearl Divers regularly fished the waters of the Tiwi Islands and established good relationship with the Tiwi. So the Tiwi were not totally isolated from external influences.
      Brian Smith

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