It is stifling hot and the humidity is 100 per cent. Ceiling fans take the edge off the heat. However, for the Indigenous cabinetmakers, working from a shed on remote Milingimbi Island, in Arnhem Land, a new high-end furniture enterprise called Manapan, has given its Yolngu community a new lease of life. “It’s a magical moment,” says Keith Lapulung, the chair of the Indigenous-owned Manapan Furniture. “It has reshaped and re-energised our community. It’s taken us into the 21st century.”
However, not everything is state of the art. Furniture produced on the island needs to be barged out and machinery in. Every tool that needs sharpening has to be transported to Darwin, 500 kilometres away. Originally a workshop making wooden coffins, the craftspeople are now collaborating with some leading Melbourne furniture designers to produce complex and labour intensive handcrafted furniture aimed at the top of the domestic and commercial markets.