The climate on the Tiwi Islands is tropical. The Tiwi describe three distinct seasons; the dry (season of smoke/kumurrupunari), the build up (song of cicadas/tiyari) and the wet (storms/jamutakari.) The seasons frame the lifestyle of the Tiwi people, dictating the food sources available and their ceremonial activities.
Seasonal changes are gradual, as the rain slows, the strong winds start to flatten the tall grasses. These winds are known as knock ‘em down or wurringawunari. When the vegetation dries, it is deliberately lit, creating the period of Kumunupinari (season of the smoke). By burning the undergrowth the Tiwi are clearing the way for hunting and assisting in the regeneration of the bush. With the dry roads and increasing access to the bush, Tiwi artists collect iron wood for carvings and ochres for painting.
Having had such intimate contact with their country for thousands of years, the Tiwi have devised their own system for identifying different seasons. The seasonal changes act as a calendar for Tiwi ceremonial life.
Towards the end of the dry season, immense storm clouds start to build, with displays of thunder and lightning. During this time humidity levels rise dramatically, whilst virtually no rain falls. Tjamutakari (rainy season) begins around Christmas time when the storms finally break. During the peak of the wet, 2500mm of rain fails causing lush tropical growth throughout the islands. Heavy rain saturates the bush, consequently Tiwi artists can collect bark from the stringy bark tree to make tunga (bark baskets) and cut pieces for bark paintings.