Skip to main content

Lifelong learning for
a fairer Australia

Lifelong learning for
a fairer Australia

Crafting opportunities

From a remote island off the north coast of mainland Australia, an Indigenous-owned and run organisation is providing local Yolngu people with training for a career in furniture making and joinery.

The Manapan Academy, established in 2019, is also transforming the lives of locals on an island that has traditionally struggled to offer training and employment opportunities for young people.

Successful Academy graduates can transition to the Manapan workshop and work under the guidance of master craftsman Josiah Baker, himself a former Academy trainee. Others, like Israel Gawuthal Naypilil, are now becoming carpenters involved in local house building and other projects.

Local high school students do work experience at Manapan, inspiring them to consider the opportunities presented by the organisation – including the possibility of travelling around Australia and the world to deliver and install some of the beautiful works.

Manapan is a self-sufficient and self-funded enterprise owned and operated by the Yolngu people, the traditional custodians of East Arnhem Land for over 65,000 years. With a long tradition of storytelling, the Manapan trainees and staff now craft ‘beautiful furniture with a story to tell’.

Supported by the Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA), a registered training organisation specialising in nationally accredited retail qualifications and Australia’s largest Aboriginal- owned corporation, the Academy and workshop are located 500 km east of Darwin in Arnhem Land on Milingimbi Island, one of six islands that form an archipelago known as the Crocodile Island Group.

When the Academy and workshop were featured on ABC’s Landline program last year, Traditional Owner and Chairwoman, Elizabeth Ganygulpa Dhurrkay, said Manapan was giving the local and wider community ‘something to hold on to’.

‘It is very important. It is the dream and cries of desperation of every parent. Every mother and father dreams of a better future for their children,’ she said.

For graduate and now an employee at Manapan, Jordan Gaykamangu, it is being able to ‘see it’ that made all the difference to him, after previously not feeling like he could believe in himself.

Manapan operates on the basis that its pathway to full-time employment doubles as a celebration of the local people’s ‘traditional talents and contemporary skills’. Trainees and staff collaborate with furniture designers from across Australia to create furniture and gifts made from timber locally sourced from the Gumatj, an Aboriginal Corporation in Nhulunbuy, blended with sustainably harvested, specialty Australian timbers. The unique and beautiful pieces are now well-known and loved across Australia and around the world.

In 2019, Manapan Crocodile Lamps and other pieces were showcased at the world’s biggest furniture and design expo in Milan. Several are now displayed in Australian embassies in Europe and locations in the US. Manapan has been featured in Vogue and GQ and commissioned by Cartier and Qantas.

In 2023, Manapan Furniture delivered the Gundar Nungalinya (Old Man Rock) Table, designed by Josiah Baker, to NT’s Government House for permanent use and display.

Last year was particularly significant for the company and academy. In August, they received a Northern Territory Indigenous Business Networks Blak Business award in the field of construction and resources. Then, in November, they were named as the NT winner of the Telstra Best of Business Award in the Building Communities category.

Josiah, who is now responsible for many of the furniture designs, says, ‘We’re creating jobs for the kids when they finish school.’ Having become a fully qualified carpenter through the Academy, he now feels inspired to teach others and has recently been teaching his son, Adam.

Josiah and others are eager to continue providing new challenges and opportunities for further skill-building. Manapan and the ALPA recently collaborated on the construction of 60 pieces of furniture for a remote housing project.

Trainees and staff had to develop simple, affordable designs for everyday furniture, such as small tables and chairs, beds, and TV units, and adapt to constructing them in more of a production line system than they had previously experienced. The results were functional and beautifully made.

Manapan is now striving to ‘see the children and grandchildren working within the community and gaining the skills and qualifications that will sustain their community for future generations’.

Visit for more information.

Adult Learning Australia

Adult Learning Australia