Tiwi Islands Shows Indigenous Role in Future Forest Care

Northern Australia provides opportunities in agroforestry, carbon, biomass and plantation establishment.

Thu 28 Sep 23


Members of the Forest & Wood Products Australia (FWPA) Board and senior executive team members travelled to the Northern Territory last week to meet with indigenous communities connected to forestry.

The region has an enormous role in the future of Australian forest industries, with the region not only servicing Australia’s fibre needs but also the needs of the greater Asia Pacific region.

This included a visit to the Tiwi Islands, where the indigenous-led Tiwi Plantations Corporation has started a three-year, $4.6 million project that has the potential to grow the Tiwi forestry industry and build a more sustainable export sector.

Led by Kim Puruntatameri and Gibson Farmer Illortaminni, several directors of the Tiwi-based corporation gave FWPA representatives a tour of the 30,000-hectare estate – where workers camp on-site, and the corporation has its own runway for access.

Spearheading sustainable growth in the tropical forestry sector, Tiwi Island’s Indigenous-led initiative doubles export value, enriches the local community, and paves the way for long-term environmental stewardship. (Photo credit: Supplied)

Once finally released, the project could double the export value of the Tiwi Islands forestry industry from $6 million to $12 million – servicing the booming market for hardwood chips in northern Asia. 

The project strongly focuses on getting Tiwi youth into jobs on the plantation, with FWPA Director Katie Fowen reporting, “The Elders who make up their Board of Directors are incredibly passionate about getting Tiwi youth into jobs at the plantation.”

“Their land, their trees, their economy.”

Wood Central can report that FWPA is one of the project partners with the University of Melbourne, with researchers also collaborating with the Tiwi Island Plantations Corporation on silviculture and soil science, wood and timber utilisation, tree development biology and molecular breeding.

According to University of Melbourne plant biologist Professor Gerd Bossinger, the relationship with the Tiwis goes back to 2011. 

“The University is working collaboratively with Tiwi Plantations Corporation on selected Eucalyptus species to improve productivity and develop a model that establishes and grows tropical forestry plantations across Northern Australia.”

The Tiwis have a long history with Natural Resource Management research. The Tiwi-UM Science Research Committee has led to vital research in Carbon and the Impact of Feral Cats and Seaturtles. Footage courtesy of @csiro

Building on the success of the Tiwi project, the FWPA is now looking to forge stronger connections with indigenous communities.

Working with Cissy Gore-Birch from Kimberley Cultural Connections, the FWPA is working “on the challenges and opportunities for longer-term business development, decision-making and the importance of cultural competency for workplaces and the broader industry,” according to a FWPA media release.

They also met with the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade (DITT), where they discussed developments in biosecurity, the Developing East Arnhem project (DEAL) and partnerships with Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs). 

The FWPA is an Australian-based Rural Research and Development Corporation (or RDC) funded by the Federal Government, member levies and research grants.

It collaborates with government and industry stakeholders to determine strategy, invest in effective and relevant R&D and deliver programs designed to grow the market for forest and wood products.

The FWPA board and key management with Tiwi Plantations Corporation personnel. (Photo Credit: Supplied)

Meeting with the Commonwealth-funded NT Ord Valley Forestru Hub “allowed attendees to more deeply understand work plans and linkages between the Northern Territory forestry initiatives and FWPA programs of work Australia-wide,” according to the media statement.

According to Craig Taylor, Chair of the FWPA Board, the visit was a crucial learning experience for the entire team.

“We would like to thank all involved for the opportunity to listen to and learn from our industry’s incredibly dedicated local representatives.”

Chris Lafferty, Head of FWPA Research, Development and Extension, with Andrew Leighton, CEO of the FWPA and Ken Robson from Quintis. (Photo Credit: Supplied)

Andrew Leighton, FWPA CEO, echoed Mr Taylor and said the “visit helped us gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and successes in northern Australian forestry, which will help inform future research opportunities to support both the local and broader industry.”

Northern Australia is emerging as an economic powerhouse in the Indo-Pacific region, and forestry and forest-based industries play an essential role in helping the part realise its potential.

In May and July, Wood Central reported on the Northern Australia Food Futures Conference and Developing Northern Australia conferences held in Darwin and had strong forestry representation.

At both conferences, presentations were delivered on topics ranging from indigenous opportunities to agroforestry and biomass.

The presenters from the opening session at the Northern Australia Food Futures Conference – Mick Stephens (Timber Queensland), Gibson Farmer Illortaminni, Thiago Gimenez Barbosa (Syntropic Solutions), Kim Purantatameri, Bob Gordan (Forestry Australia – back right) with Frank Miller, Chair of the Forest Industries Association of the NT

Forestry was one of seven key discussion topics at the Northern Australia Food Futures Conference, with Mick Stephens, CEO of Timber Queensland, presenting at both conferences.

“Northern Australia has ample opportunity to provide food and fibre for the nation, and the collaboration and discussions among peak forestry and agricultural bodies and farmers has been amazing,” he told Wood Central in May.

Quintis operates the world’s largest Indian sandalwood estate and supplies global markets. (Photo Credit: Supplied)

The FWPA team also visited Quintis, which manages the largest Indian sandalwood plantation estate in the world, and it supplies PEFC and FSC-certified sandalwood, wood chips and powder to global markets.

Guided by Troy Sawyer and Ken Robson, Quintis’s 11,200-hectare plantation estate is home to more than 4.3 million trees with an extensive tree breeding program that creates up to 18% greater growth and yields.

The visit coincides with the FWPA restructuring its operations. 

Last month, Wood Central revealed that the organisation is split into three programs during future FWPA activities.

• Research, Development and Extension, now headed by Dr Chris Lafferty.

• Forest Research and Learning, now headed by Dr Jodie Mason.

• Built Environment & WoodSolutions Programs, now headed by Kevin Peachy.

Supporting activities, the marketing and communication team has also been bolstered, with Sarah Downey leading a strong team, including Rhiana Archie, Campbell Mayne and Emma Petersson.


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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