Tiwi Islands plantations – flagship for Great Southern Plantations
The Tiwi Land Council wants to reconnect the 3000 people of Melville and Bathurst Islands with the land, in a modern, revenue-raising way – through outside investment, education and the creation of a Tiwi labour force, writes Nicholas Rothwell.
A little over a year ago, John Young, Managing Director of Great Southern Plantations (GSP) – decribed as one of Australia’s most far-thinking businessmen – bought leases on Melville Island and things began to move fast.
Three separate but related projects now form a new Tiwi vision.
1. A plantation economy
From the 1950s there have been plantation pines harvested for timber. GSP would like to extend leases to around 10% of the Tiwi landmass. They have invested $80 million in infrastructure this year, building:
Investment in plantations of Acacia Mangium is expected to reach $350 million – a huge injection into an island economy currently worth around $35 million pa, almost all in the form of welfare, medical and government services.
GSP wants a Tiwi workforce and is currently training and employing one. Already 29 Tiwi – out of a workforce of 58 – have real jobs and competitive wages.
These men are the new elite of the islands, drawn equally from all the main communities. There has been fierce competition for the jobs and the workers ‘radiate a fervent commitment’.
2. Education & a dedicated school
Some current hurdles to overcome:
The new dream is a privately run boarding college far away from the drink, drugs and trouble at remote Pickertaramoor on Melville Island:
3. Federal policy of 99 year leases in large remote Aboriginal townships
Nguiu is the first community chosen by Minister Mal Brough under this new policy. The thinking is that 99 year leases would:
There is currently a lot of debate about this. Most of the Tiwi people are keen but strong voices in Aboriginal politics and some in the NT Government are quite bitterly opposed to this policy. Read more in the Rothwell article.