You probably think a remote island is one of the last places where you’d find a 3D printer. But in Arnhem Land – 500 km from Darwin – a 3D printer is transforming plastic production and recycling.

Ernest Gondarra lives on Yurriwi – one of the Crocodile Islands in Arnhem Land. Yurriwi – or Milingimbi – is beautiful. Surrounded by stunning water, you get a real sense of isolation.

When ModFab, a company that teaches 3D printing and the associated technology, came to Yurriwi, Ernest was fascinated. He wanted to learn more and more. After attending a bunch of workshops, he realised that 3D printing would be a huge opportunity for his mob.

Supported by the Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation, Ernest started designing and 3D printing all sorts of objects. He made phone covers, fairy-light covers and ID-card holders. He even helped Rio Tinto by making 3D printed models of their bores.

Seeing the opportunities for creativity and resourcefulness, Ernest started teaching computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D printing to the island’s young people. When we visited, students used software called Tinker CAD to design a personalised bubble wand. Ernest 3D-printed the wands, and the kids had a blast playing with them the next day.

Ernest is helping to make positive changes for his mob on the island. He loves sharing his skills with the community, and his community loves learning from him. Indigenous people have been teaching using storytelling for thousands of years. Ernest is showing us that this style of teaching can be used for achieving amazing things using technology, too.

Why it's important

The remoteness of Yurriwi is a part of its beauty, but this isolation comes at a cost. The only way to get anything to or off the island is by boat, plane or barge.

3D printing helped to solve the problem of getting things to the island, but what about getting plastic waste off the island? Ernest’s next idea is to introduce plastic recycling, where waste plastic can be turned into filament and then 3D printed into useful objects. This will help solve the issue of plastic waste.


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