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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

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Steve Vivian


COVID shut off the Tiwi Islands in 2020. But in a few weeks tourists will be pouring back in

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.Key points:Tourists were barred from entering the islands for the event in 2020A cyclone in 2018 also caused the day to be postponedThe Tiwi Land Council says tourists are welcome and art centres are preparing for face-to-face salesA 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."The essence and beauty of football on the TiwisThe game of footy is almost a different sport on the Tiwi Islands — a place where stars are born and locals says Aussie Rules is a way of life.Read moreHowever, 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 influxThe 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.

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