This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

Meet Manapan, Furniture Makers In Arnhem Land

Furniture

500 kilometres east of Darwin is a remote island called Milingimbi. It’s the largest of the Crocodile Islands, and Yolngu people have lived on this land for over 40,000 years.

These days, around 1200 people occupy the area, including an Aboriginal-owned, high-end furniture business, Manapan Furniture, that has been quietly growing for the past 12 months.

15th June, 2018

The ‘Fire’ sideboard,  designed by Alexsandra Pontonio for Manapan Furniture. Photo – Courtesy of Manapan Furniture.

(Left to right) Terrence Baker, Josiah Baker and Shawn Yunupingu, makers at Manapan Furniture on Milingimbi Island. Photo – Christopher Tovo.

The ‘Fossil’ coffee table, designed by Liz Doube for Manapan Furniture. Photo – Courtesy of Manapan Furniture.

The ‘Art’ cabinet. Photo – Courtesy of Manapan Furniture.

Women on the remote Milingimbi Island creating woven baskets. Photo – Christopher Tovo.

Left: Sebastian Dhamarra and Jason Wanambi. Right: Terrence Baker. Photo – Christopher Tovo.

The ‘Linear’ sideboard, designed by Ashleigh Parker for Manapan Furniture. Photo – Courtesy of Manapan Furniture.

Shaun Yunupingu in the Manapan workshop. Photo – Christopher Tovo.

Left: Keith Wawurr and David Yarrang. Right: Milingimbi Island locals. Photo – Christopher Tovo.

The ‘Crocodile’ lamp, designed by Suzie Stanford for Manapan Furniture. Photo – Courtesy of Manapan Furniture.

The ‘Woven’ cabinet, designed by Chloe Walbran for Manapan Furniture. Photo – Courtesy of Manapan Furniture.

‘One of the most important parts about it is that as a white person [on Milingimbi Island], you’re in the minority,’ explains Mark White, director of Manapan, ‘you’re on [Yolngu] land, in their community, and you have to respect that’. Photo – Christopher Tovo

The ‘Art’ bench, designed by Jon Mikulic for Manapan Furniture. Photo – Courtesy of Manapan Furniture.

Given its remote location, all materials and machinery is brought in on a barge weekly, and all furniture produced is shipped out to Darwin. Photo – Courtesy of Manapan Furniture.

Sally Tabart
Friday 15th June 2018

‘There should be an Aboriginal piece of furniture in every single Australian embassy throughout the world – and that could be made by Manapan.’ – Mark White, director of Manapan.

Mark White, director of Manapan Furniture, has been working on developing the high-end furniture project for the past two years with the Aboriginal-owned not-for-profit organisation, Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (or ALPA). After heading up his commercial shop-fitting company, Ramvek, for three decades, in addition to working in other capacities with ALPA, Mark saw space to utilise his skills in a new way. ‘The best thing I knew was joinery’, Mark says, ‘so that’s how we decided to get involved’.

The basic principle of Manapan is simple. ‘Manapan actually means “together”’, Mark explains to me, and this namesake is echoed in the operations of the business. Together with the ALPA, Mark built a workshop on Milingimbi Island, which is owned by ALPA and operated by Yolngu. Master crafstman Rob Crisfield was brought on board to share cabinetry making skills with the local staff, and cutting edge designs have been contributed by six leading furniture designers from around Australia. All of the product is crafted out of the Manapan workshop using Australian timber. The idea of teaching and transferring lifelong skills between cultures seems like a pretty basic concept, but there’s really nothing like Manapan anywhere else in the country.

‘Our aim is to create a business that is commercially viable, where every cent of the money we make buys us new equipment or goes back into the community in some way,’ explains Mark.  

12 months into operation, and Manapan Furniture employs five people on Milingimbi Island full time, and has become somewhat of a hub for community activity. The ‘Woven Cabinet’ features a central panel of weaving incorporated into the design, which is created by a group of local women. Traditional spear making is used as a feature in the ‘Art Bench’, and kids from the local school are able to come up to the factory for work experience.

‘One of the most important parts about it is that as a white person [on Milingimbi Island], you’re in the minority,’ explains Mark, ‘you’re on [Yolngu] land, in their community, and you have to respect that.’

What the Manapan team have been able to create is quite remarkable. Given the remote location of Milingimbi Island, all necessary materials and machinery are brought in by barge every week, and everything they make is shipped out to Darwin. From there, pieces are loaded onto a road train to Adelaide, where they’re  distributed to their final destination. It’s quite a process, but one that the Manapan team now have down pat – ‘we are completely self sufficient, and the whole system is working’.  

Despite the measurable positive impact that Manapan is able to contribute to the local community, the rapidly growing small business has received little attention from the federal government; something that clearly bothers Mark. ‘I’ve written to many people explaining what we’re doing and have had zero back’, he tells me, ‘there should be an Aboriginal piece of furniture in every single Australian embassy throughout the world – and that could be made by Manapan. Why can’t we get it done by the people in Arnhem Land?’. It’s a question that begs an answer. 

When I asked Mark what he felt Manapan needed to grow to the next level, it was clear that he and the team have used this lack of funding and acknowledgement to date as a driving motivation. ‘We don’t need a handout, and we don’t want any money, we just want orders,’ he says, ‘give us an order to build joinery for every embassy throughout the world and we’ll make it happen.’

Mark and the Manapan team will be at Denfair today and tomorrow – you can find them at stall 105. Otherwise, the Manapan furniture range can be seen online or at their Melbourne showroom. 

Manapan Showroom
18 Wilson Street
South Yarra, Victoria

View Comments

Similar Stories

Indigenous Art

Shirley Macnamara, Weaver and Cattle Drover

An award-winning creative, weaving with Spinifex sourced from her own thriving cattle property near Mount Isa.
Jessica Booth and Laetitia Prunetti

Indigenous Art

Maree Clarke's 'Thung-ung Coorang' Jewellery

A studio visit with the trailblazing indigenous artist and designer, who has just launched an exclusive collection with NGV's design store.
Eugenia Flynn

Art

The Adaptive Magic Of The Aurukun Sculptors' Canine Carvings

An intimate exploration of the contemporary significance of these 'elegant/disturbing/humorous carved canines', from our newest writer, Tyso...
Tyson Yunkaporta

This Week

Homes

The Experimental Melbourne Home Of Two Artists

The 'warped maximalist colour feast' home of artists Nabilah Nordin and Nick Modrzewski in Newport, Melbourne.

News

WIN A One-Of-A-Kind Artwork By Local Artist Dave Kulesza - aka Boris Bombay!

Bombay Sapphire are giving away a nostalgia-fuelled, pop art-esque tiled artwork by Boris Bombay (aka Dave Kulesza) to one lucky winner!
Sponsored

Homes

Designer Anna Spiro’s Heavenly Island Home

The celebrated interior designer shares her relaxed yet luxurious Minjerribah/North Stradbroke holiday house.

Food

The Tastiest Recipes Of 2021

From savoury galettes to triple tiered vanilla sponges with craem and lemon curd, these are our five most popular recipes of last year.

Studio Visit

The Graduate Designer Pushing The Limits Of Traditional Furniture Design

Brigitte Owers-Buccianti is the designer behind Real Non-Real, an exciting new practice making multi-functional furniture pieces.

Creative People

Seven Standout Emerging Creatives of 2021

Discovering talented new creatives is our favourite thing we do – here are the artists, designers and makers who got us talking in 2021.

Words From The Wise

Pushing Against The Status Quo As A Creative Professional, With Designer Timothy Moore

Sibling Architecture director and co-founder Timothy Moore shares refreshing advice about embarking on a career in architecture and design -...
Haroula Karapanagiotidis

Food

Julia's Herby Prawn Mayo Sandwiches

Julia Busuttil Nishimura serves up the ultimate summer sanga. YUM!
Julia Busuttil Nishimura

Family

Artist Miranda Skoczek On Single Parenting, Smelling The Roses + Spontaneity

Artist Miranda Skoczek shares her multigenerational family life in the Dandenongs with son Harper and aunt Margaret.

On The Market

The Perfect Mid-Century, NSW South Coast Beach House Is For Sale

This mid-century Mollymook Beach house is perfect in its proportions, feel and water views... and it's on the market!

Gardens

Heide Museum’s Enchanting New Healing Garden

Heide Museum of Modern Art opens a new healing garden – a therapeutic space to benefit the mind, soul, and body.

News

Save Soho Rose Farm!

Donate to help save Victoria’s most beautiful field-grown roses, after a devastating hail storm. 

News

Melbourne's Futuristic New Gallery For Art + Science

Excitement is high – the latest museum in the international Science Gallery Network opens in Melbourne today!
Sponsored

Shopping

The Ultimate Outdoor Furniture Guide

From sleek and chic to fun and playful, here are four different schemes for the outdoor dining situation of your dreams!

Creative People

Creating Original, Ever-Changing Gardens With Kep Horticulture’s Andy Kepitis

Kep Horticulture founder Andy Kepitis talks how to create dynamic gardens, and his aversion to 'certain' plant palettes!

Similar Stories

Indigenous Art

Shirley Macnamara, Weaver and Cattle Drover

An award-winning creative, weaving with Spinifex sourced from her own thriving cattle property near Mount Isa.
Jessica Booth and Laetitia Prunetti

Indigenous Art

Maree Clarke's 'Thung-ung Coorang' Jewellery

A studio visit with the trailblazing artist and designer, who has just launched an exclusive collection with NGV's design store.
Eugenia Flynn

Art

The Adaptive Magic Of The Aurukun Sculptors' Canine Carvings

An intimate exploration of the contemporary significance of these 'elegant/disturbing/humorous carved canines', from our newest writer, Tyso...
Tyson Yunkaporta

The Design Files acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files – we would love to hear from you.

Please email us here.