Tiwi-led Forestry Project to Boost Estate and Double Exports

Coinciding with NAIDOC Week, the Tiwi Plantations Corporation provides an excellent example of indigenous-led sustainable forest management.

Mon 03 Jul 23


An Indigenous forestry project on the Northern Territory’s Tiwi Islands is working towards maximising tropical forestry projects to help grow the Tiwi’s 30,000-hectare forestry estate.

The National Indigenous Times (NIT) reports that the Tiwi Plantations Corporation has started a three-year, $4.6 million project to grow the Tiwi forestry industry and build a more sustainable export sector.

The project will 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. 

To coincide with NAIDOC Week, ABC Landline covered the project.

The Tiwi Land Council and Traditional Owners have long been responsible for their land. 

In 1986, the Northern Territory government ended its involvement in Tiwi Islands forestry, handing over 4900 hectares to the Tiwi Land Council.

In 1996, Tiwi leaders decided to use 10 per cent of the forestry land to create sustainable employment and remove Tiwi people from reliance on welfare.

And in 2010, Gibson Farmer Illortaminni led Tiwi landowners in establishing their own Tiwi Plantations Corporation, managing the existing plantations and partnering with Midway for harvesting.

The current project will transition the estate to higher-value eucalyptus pellita trees.

In May 2023, Mr Illortaminni and Kim Puruntatameri – chair of the Tiwi Plantation Corporation – attended the Northern Australia Food Futures Conference in Darwin, where they spoke about the project. 

Gibson Farmer Illortaminni and Kim Puruntatameri, both wearing green shirts, are seen with Mick Stephens from Timber Queensland (far left), Thiago Gimenez Barbosa from Syntropic Solutions (front left), Bob Gordan from Forestry Australia (back right), and Frank Miller, Chair of the Forest Industries Association of the NT, at the Northern Australia Food Futures Conference in Darwin.

The Tiwi Plantations Corporation works with the Cooperate Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia, the University of Melbourne, Charles Darwin University, Midway Limited, Forest and Wood Product Australia, and the NT government. 

In August 2021, the University of Melbourne reported on the project, which will see researchers provide the following:

  • Expertise in plantation silviculture and soil science.
  • Wood and timber utilisation.
  • Tree developmental biology.
  • Molecular breeding.

“As the main research provider, the University will work 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,” plant developmental biologist, Professor Gerd Bossinger, said.

“Our relationship with the Tiwi goes back to 2011 when we founded the Tiwi-UM Science Reference Committee, so we are very excited to be involved in this initiative.”

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

Plantation Management Partners, former Midway executive officer Glen Samsa said underneath the science is a story of the Tiwi’s persistence.

“Forestry is a long-term enterprise, and that one sits well with the Tiwi; they’ve been managing their land for 6000 odd years,” he said.

“They really do think long term, and this project is quite young regarding forestry projects.”

Mr Samsa said continuing this project while considering sustainability was one of their important goals.

“Forestry is going to be very important with decarbonisation and the world looking to reduce its carbon footprint; forestry is an important sector there,” he said.

“So compare our carbon footprint against steel and concrete, there are some really good benefits to forestry around some of those building prospects.”

The project employs 30 to 35 per cent of the Plantation partner’s employees.

Increasing those numbers is something that Mr Puruntatameri – who, along with Mr Illortaminni, is elected to the Tiwi Land Council – wants to improve.

“Seeing the harvesters back in action and the ship being loaded is great after a long break.”

“Having the project team update us on the research taking place helps us to plan for the next 15-20 years of forestry,” he said.

“It’s good for Tiwi people, and women are stepping up. Where we are now, women are getting involved, and I’d like to see more women in forestry.”

Scientists are working across multiple sites to undertake a detailed assessment of the current plantation before beginning work.


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