Tiwi Islands – Northern Territory

Tiwi low quality Plantations Face Grim Future September 09

Posted by tiwiccbb on September 14, 2009


Future grim for Tiwi plantation


September 11th, 2009

THE Tiwi forestry plantation seems doomed to collapse after a banking consortium withdrew support yesterday.

Great Southern ran the enterprise until it went bust earlier this year.

The Tiwi Land Council had hoped to find a new operator and keep the plantation going.

But the banking consortium – CBA, ANZ, Mizuho Corporate Bank and Bank of Western Australia – said it would only support the project until September 30.

Land council chairman Robert Tipungwuti accused the banks of being “cents-wise, dollar-dumb”.

He said the price of woodchips on the world market guaranteed the banks would ultimately “realise their investment”.

Mr Tipungwuti said the 30,000ha forest was now in danger of being wiped out by bushfires.

“The Tiwi forest is different to the other Great Southern projects,” Mr Tipungwuti said. “It is on Aboriginal land.

“Since the receivers were appointed, Tiwi people have worked with technical experts – formerly Great Southern employees – to maintain the environment through fire and weed control.

“This small and effective team should be left in place during the rest of the fire season and throughout the following wet season, for both environmental and financial reasons.”

The Environment Centre said the business model for the forestry was based on tax breaks and harvesting high-value eucalypts, not on woodchips.

Co-ordinator Stuart Blanch said: “Locals tell us the variety of acacia seed used was wrong, the trees haven’t been pruned enough … and there isn’t enough rainfall during the dry season to get the year-round growth needed.”

“We think there are more jobs in returning the plantation to bush than trying to keep a white elephant afloat,” he said.


2 Responses to “Tiwi low quality Plantations Face Grim Future September 09”

  1. tiwiccbb said

    Editorial Observer
    Self-Determination and the Problem of Economic Development
    Published: September 28, 2009

    Melville Island lies half an hour by small plane north of Darwin, Australia, at the very tip of the Northern Territory. On a hazy day, it seems to take shape in the Arafura Sea like a more substantial haze. The pilot makes a slow sweep to give his only passenger — me — a good look at the landscape before we touch down at Garden Point, the tiny airstrip outside a village called Pirlangimpi.

    As we begin descending from 4,500 feet, the pilot tells me about an enormous convective storm called Hector — one of the tallest thunderheads in the world — that forms over Melville and Bathurst Island (collectively known as the Tiwi Islands) every afternoon during the monsoon. He points out a network of straight, raw, red-dirt roads running through the backcountry. I look more closely and see that the irregular broken cover of eucalyptuses native to the Tiwi Islands gives way to what look like geometrically planted orchards — 75,000 acres of them.

    The trees in those long, straight rows are not fruit trees. They’re fast-growing acacias, native to eastern, not northern Australia. What they’re good for is wood chips, the raw material of the paper industry. “The plantation,” the pilot calls it as we make our final approach. Then he adds, “It’s in receivership.” Indeed it is. Great Southern Plantations — the Perth-based company that ran the plantation — collapsed in May, and a banking consortium that was helping support the wood-chip project is scheduled to pull out at the end of September. Great Southern’s real business was not managing agricultural properties. It was selling managed investment schemes — investments in its properties.

    But this is not just another forestry project gone awry — 75,000 acres of bankrupt monoculture where there used to be native tropical woodland. The Tiwi Islands are aboriginal reserves. In other words, the islands are owned by “traditional owners” — the Australian phrase for its indigenous population living on traditional lands. The partnership with Great Southern Plantations was supposed to create as many as 300 jobs on Melville Island — jobs that would go to Tiwi Islanders — and leave behind, once its 60-year lease had expired, the infrastructure for a thriving forestry business.

    What’s left behind is a sense of desolation and distrust. I talked with several Tiwi Islanders — over a dinner of mud crab, local barramundi, local mussels and magpie goose — and it was clear that many of them doubted the good faith not only of Great Southern and the Northern Territory government but also their own Tiwi Land Council, which had encouraged the partnership. What Great Southern (called Sylvatech when the project began in 1996) got out of the deal was the valuable right to log the land that was being cleared for acacia — including eucalypts and the remains of former cypress pine plantations.

    The question that night at dinner wasn’t just the economic loss involved — the loss of jobs and royalties and individual investments. It was the meaning of this failure, its demoralizing effect on a people who have been striving to find a way toward economic self-determination. Like traditional owners on the mainland, the Tiwi have had to struggle with the cruel vicissitudes of Australian policy toward its aboriginal population — everything from the brutality of official racism to the confused tolerance that has come in more recent times with cultural and political empowerment.

    But I also heard a deeper sense of regret. “We should have left the savanna as it was,” one Tiwi said to me. The more I listened, the more it seemed there was a forceful analogy between the plight of the Tiwis and the plight of all of us. How do we balance the need to find the economic wherewithal to educate children, to bolster self-confidence and a sense of self-determination, with the need to preserve our cultural integrity and our homelands?

    On Melville Island, the problem appears in its starkest form. The Tiwi tried to strike that balance with the best of corporate and governmental intent in hopes of a sound, self-determined future — far brighter than their present. The good news in this failure is that it happened before Great Southern could expand its plantation — as planned — to 247,000 acres. And now, for the Tiwi, the question of the immediate economic future — and their ultimate integrity as a people — has to be reopened.

  2. carl said

    HI I liked your artical. It was well balanced and informative. It did however not mention that Great Southern failed forestry venture on the tiwis was the second such failed venture. The first was a similar scheme that saw a large amount of federal gov money disappear into some bodies pocket and to date no money was made from these forests. Once the money stopped the projects stopped. You could also note that the tropical savannas of Northern Australia exist mostly on very poor soils and are not really suitable to most forms of agriculture. A little research by the Tiwi island land councils consuktants would have determined that the forests schemes were not viable in the long term. The tiwis people should hold the memebers of the land council responsible for the big mess…. rumour has it that some of them managed to recieve lots of kick backs ….. What has happened on the tiwis is a tragedy for the people and for the environment. Funnily enpought I dodnt thionk the N.T> has the gust to even mention it. thanks regards carl.

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