'Too many trees!'
: indigenous woodcarving and harvest sustainability in central Arnhem Land

  • Jennifer Koenig

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    The growth of the Indigenous Arts Industry in Australia over the last few decades has seen an increase in the number of Indigenous communities producing woodcarvings from native timber species. In this thesis, I apply integrative methodology from the social and biological sciences to examine the socio-cultural, economic and ecological determinants of sustainability in relation to harvesting timber for the woodcarving sector in the Maningrida region of central Amhem Land. Analysis of a long term art sales database showed that the number of woodcarvers and the number of carvings produced in this region has grown rapidly over the last two decades. Accompanied with this have been major shifts in the age demographics and gender of woodcarvers with younger artists and women increasingly engaging in carving production. Whilst artists were observed to be engaged in a range of activities, art production was the prominent means of productive cash income generation. An artist's place of residence also influenced the amount of carving undertaken, with artists residing on 'country' at an outstation more engaged in sculpture production than those living in the township of Maningrida.

    There were many cultural differences in harvest practice among language groups. Kuninjku and Kunibidji woodcarvers harvested a greater number of tree species, larger quantities per harvest trip and smaller sized stems compared to the other language groups. However, two tree species were predominantly used for carving across all language groups in the region: Bombax ceiba and Brachychiton diversifolius. A high percentage (65-88%) of harvested B. ceiba and B. diversifolius stems coppiced following harvest, with coppice stems growing up to six times faster than similar sized non-coppice stems. Stage-structured population models show that whilst B. diversifolius is more resilient to increasing harvest intensity than B. ceiba, current harvest regimes for both species are sustainable. This study has reduced the uncertainty surrounding the sustainability of harvesting these species for woodcarving in this region, helping to ensure the continuation of this important livelihood component for Indigenous Australians.
    Date of Award2007
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAnthony Griffiths (Supervisor) & Jon Altman (Supervisor)

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