In late September, board members of Forest & Wood Products Australia (FWPA) along with key members of the FWPA leadership team, visited several locations in the Northern Territory, including the Tiwi Islands, to learn from and spend time on the ground with local representatives of the industry.

A key focus was to increase Indigenous engagement, which included an in-depth workshop with Cissy Gore-Birch from Kimberley Cultural Connections on challenges and opportunities for longer term business development, decision-making and the importance of cultural competency for workplaces and the broader industry.

The team also had the opportunity to meet with the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade (DITT) for discussions around past and current forestry initiatives. Key areas covered were developments in biosecurity, insights from the Developing East Arnhem project (DEAL) and further partnerships with other Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDC’s).

An information and experience sharing session was held with NT Ord Valley Forestry Hub (NTOVFH), which gave attendees an opportunity to more deeply understand workplans and linkages between the Northern Territory forestry initiatives and FWPA programs of work Australia-wide.

“We would like to thank all involved for the opportunity to listen to and learn from the incredibly dedicated local representatives of our industry” said Craig Taylor, Chair of the FWPA Board.

“We were thrilled to showcase the existing estates along with the growing opportunities the forest industry presents. The industry thanks the FWPA Board for this initiative and looks forward to working closely to add value and realise opportunities for existing plantation estates and traditional owners throughout the NT” said Frank Miller, Chair of NTOVFH and the Forest Industry Association NT (FIANT).

“This 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” said Andrew Leighton, CEO of FWPA.

FWPA would like to especially thank Kim Puruntatameri, Gibson Farmer Illortaminni, Dennis Tipakalippa, Patricia Puruntatameri and Andy Bubb from the Tiwi Plantations Corporation, Muhammed Sohail Mazhar from NT Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade, Frank Miller and Hanna Lillicrap from the NT Ord Valley Forestry Hub, Troy Sawyer and Ken Robson from Quintis for their support and insights during this valuable visit.

The insights and experiences from this study tour will inform further FWPA research and strategic development needs to support forestry and wood products across Australia.

NT and Tiwi Islands forestry has been growing both in scope and expertise in recent years and currently comprises some 60,000 hectares of plantations and 80–90 million ha of Indigenous owned or native forestry. With forestry uses ranging from cultural to profit-driven harvesting, the managers coordinate a range of stakeholder requirements with respect and hope to expand the employment opportunities in the region.

NTOVFH grew out of a successful Commonwealth grant for a regional forestry hub in 2021. Tiwi Plantations Corporation began its work in 2003 and is the largest Indigenous agricultural venture in northern Australia, managing over 30,000ha of plantation estate on Melville Island and 100% owned by the Tiwi people. Lessons from its Tropical Hardwood Plantation Productivity program are forming the basis of the Northern Forestry Industry Growth model and there are also programs underway to find other forest species for diversification on the islands.

Early Tiwi plantations were mostly acacia, but feedback from monitoring and research has seen that shift to Eucalyptus pellita, which performs better and is more resistant to the severe weather and pests on the island.

Earlier this year, the Tiwi Plantations team also worked with Plant Health Australia (PHA) as part of a Commonwealth-funded project, Safeguarding Indigenous-led forestry in northern Australia.