Human Ecology

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 407–419 | Cite as

Artists as Harvesters: Natural Resource Use by Indigenous Woodcarvers in Central Arnhem Land, Australia

  • Jennifer Koenig
  • Jon C. Altman
  • Anthony D. Griffiths


Plant resources are used, managed and conserved by local communities in many parts of the world. However, very few studies have examined the site-specific factors and mechanisms that affect resource extraction. We apply methodology from the social and biological sciences to examine the cultural and socio-economic factors that influence the harvest practice and resource use of indigenous wood carvers in the Maningrida region of central Arnhem Land. Woodcarvers from this region use a small number of carving timbers with two species dominant, Bombax ceiba and Brachychiton diversifolius. There were many cultural differences in harvest practice, with artists from the Kuninjku/Kunibeidji language community harvesting a greater number of tree species, larger quantities per harvest trip and smaller sized stems. Socio-economic factors also played an important role in facilitating the collection of stems as artists owning a vehicle acquired more stems than those who did not. Harvest sites closest to the township of Maningrida had higher visitation frequencies than those further away. These influences on harvest practice have significant implications for the ecological sustainability of timber harvesting in this region and we highlight the need to examine such localised factors when assessing the sustainability of indigenous wildlife harvests.


Non-timber forest products Resource use Woodcarving Ethnobotany Timber harvest Central Arnhem Land, Australia 



Many thanks to all the artists who participated in this study, who gave generously of their time and knowledge, and allowed JK to visit them and their families on many occasions. Without their support and encouragement this research could not have been undertaken. We thank Apolline Kohen, Michelle Culpitt and Kellie Austin, then staff at Maningrida Arts and Culture, for their advice and assistance. The Djelk Rangers, especially Matthew Marrday, provided invaluable field assistance. This study forms part of a project ‘Timber harvest management for the Aboriginal arts industry: socioeconomic, cultural and ecological determinants of sustainability in a remote community context’ and was funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage grant and an Australian Federation of University Women (Queensland) scholarship. The research described above was undertaken in accordance and with permission from the Charles Darwin University Human Ethics Research Committee.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer Koenig
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jon C. Altman
    • 2
  • Anthony D. Griffiths
    • 3
  1. 1.Research Institute for Environment and LivelihoodsCharles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Research School of Social SciencesThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Natural ResourcesEnvironment, the Arts and SportPalmerstonAustralia

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