The Tiwi forestry starts many thousands of years ago, with Tiwi people using their forests to support their culture, their ceremony and their way of life.
In more recent times, a small sawmill on Melville island provided Cypress pine for the rebuilding of Darwin after the cyclone of 1897. The first forestry plantation started at Snake Bay on Melville island in December 1960.
When the Northern Territory Government ended its involvement in forestry on the islands in 1986, over 4900 ha of plantations were handed over to the Tiwi Land Council. This was mainly Caribbean pine and northern Cypress pine, with some mixed plantings including the first trials of Acacia mangium.
Sylvatech planted the first commercial Acacia mangium plantations, then was bought out by Great Southern Plantations, who invested millions in the plantations. Great Southern also supported the broader community through land rental and ranger programs before going into receivership.
Tiwi leaders were devastated, but determined to keep going, forming their own Tiwi forestry company, Tiwi Plantations Corporation Trust in 2009 to ensure the management of their plantations and bring them to harvest. The principal purposes of the trust are to relieve poverty, advance education and religion, and any other charitable purposes beneficial to Tiwi people. Tiwi Plantations Corporation Pty Ltd is the Trustee company for the Tiwi Plantations Corporation Trust.
Tiwi Plantations Corporation Pty Ltd took control of the plantations, looking after the land and the trees and looked to re-structure the project. Independent experts were engaged to assess the viability of the re-structured forestry project. The independent experts determined the project was financially viable and have been engaged on a number occasions to track progress. Even with this information, it was hard work to keep going with not much money for workers and equipment.
In March 2014 Tiwi Plantations Corporation signed a sales and purchase agreement with Japanese company Mitsui to ship woodchips and market quality Acacia mangium to overseas paper manufacturers.
With an Australian Government grant and commercial loans in place, Tiwi Plantations Corporation Pty Ltd set about purchasing the much needed and expensive harvesting and ship loading equipment.
A Harvest Open Day on 23rd of June 2015 marked the start of the 1st harvest of Acacia mangium for woodchip. November will see the departure of the 1st consignment of woodchip for export.
Then Tiwi people will really start to reap the rewards of their past elders’ dreams.
The Northern Territory Government has provided greatly appreciated assistance with funding and with the upgrading of the road to allow the woodchip trucks better access to Port Melville.
Plantation Management Partners provide the staff and technical skills to plant, grow, harvest, chip and market trees for Tiwi Plantations Corporation. With their assistance and training, Tiwi people have jobs driving trucks, operating harvest machinery, fire management, working in the workshop and plantation and environmental management.
After operating on a shoestring budget in recent years, the workforce is growing quickly as harvesting moves into full swing.
Within the next couple of years, the forestry project will expand, providing jobs for more Tiwi people.
Meanwhile, as one lot of trees comes down, the search is underway for a second rotation crop, with trials of new plantations around the forestry centre.
Plantation Management Partners are now looking for trees that are good for woodchip and sawlog production, and species with high growth rates that will give the Tiwi people the best return for their land and investment.