Dreamtime to Now
Educational information for schools
An Aboriginal delicacy
For thousands of years before European settlement the aborigines of eastern Australia feasted on the native nuts which grew in the rainforests of the wet slopes of the Great Dividing Range. One of these nuts was called gyndl or jindilli, which was later corrupted to kindal kindal by early Europeans, while in the southern range of the tree it was known as boombera. We now know it as the macadamia.
The high oil content of these nuts was a coveted addition to the indigenous diet. However, they were difficult to harvest in great quantities so probably were not a major staple food. The fallen nuts were collected in dilly bags and taken to feasting grounds. Some coastal, aboriginal middens contain large quantities of bush nut shells along with sea shells, often 15 – 20kms from the nearest trees.
Nuts were eaten raw or roasted in hot coals. Many processing stones have been found in eastern rainforests, consisting of a large stone with a delicate incision for holding the nuts and sometimes a smaller, flat stone sits on top which is then struck by a larger ‘hammer’ stone.
Modern technology has not invented a better hand nutcracker than this. The more bitter species, particularly in north Queensland, were ground into a paste and washed in running water to make them edible.
There were at least twelve tribes in the region where the trees grew and they were used as an item of trade with other tribes. With the arrival of white settlers nuts were bartered, often with native honey, for rum and tobacco.
King Jacky of the Logan River clan, south of Brisbane, was probably the first macadamia nut entrepreneur as he and his tribe have been recorded as regularly collecting and trading them during the 1860’s.Cosmetics and medicine
The aborigines would express the oil from the nuts and use it as a binder with ochres and clay for face and body painting. This was a method of preserving clan symbols of the dreaming. The oil was also used neat for skin rejuvenation and as a carrier where it was mixed with other plant extracts to treat ailments.
It was believed the nuts contained a stimulant which aided breast milk production. Lactating mothers would eat the bitter nuts that had commenced to germinate.
Slow adoption by Europeans
The first European to discover this nut is now attributed to the explorer Allan Cunningham in 1828. The German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt recorded the tree in 1843 and took a sample to Melbourne which is now in the National Herbarium. However, it was not until 1858 that British botanist Ferdinand von Mueller and the director of the Botanical Gardens in Brisbane, Walter Hill, gave the scientific name Macadamia intergrifolia to the tree – named after von Mueller’s friend Dr.John MacAdam, a noted scientist and secretary to the Philosophical Institute of Australia.
Walter Hill, so the story goes, asked a young associate to crack some nuts for germinating. The lad ate some and claimed they were delicious. Hill was under the impression that these bush nuts were poisonous and after a few days, when the boy showed no signs of ill-health, he tasted some himself, proclaiming he had discovered a nut to surpass all others.
These were the first recorded Europeans to eat these amazing nuts.
Hill cultivated the first Macadamia intergrifolia in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens, also in the year 1858. It is still alive and bearing fruit today.
Some common names in use were ‘bauple’ or ‘bopple nut’ (after Bauple Mountain near Gympie), ‘bush nut’, Mullumbimby nut’ and ‘Queensland nut’. After plantations were established in Hawaii, the Americans also called it the ‘Hawaiian nut’.
The first commercial orchard of macadamia nuts was planted at Rous Hill, 12km from Lismore, by Charles Staff in the early1880’s. After his death the farm changed hands twice before being bought up by a neighbour, Jens Christian Frederiksen, in 1910.
The Frederiksens main industry was dairying, but an advertisement in a 1932 edition of the local newspaper attests to the commercial viability of macadamia nut production.
The original orchard has recently been replaced by grafted trees, but the 120 year old trees that remain are still producing and the property is still owned by the Frederiksen family.
A tough nut to crack
In 1932 Greek migrants, Steve Angus and his brothers Nick and George, moved from Sydney to Murwillumbah and opened a fruit shop known as the Tweed Fruit Exchange. Steve was introduced to a Tweed farmer, John Waldron.
Waldron was cracking the nuts from his small plantation with a hammer, roasting and salting them to sell locally.
After adopting the same methods at the back of the fruit shop, this arduous practice eventually led Steve to tracking down a nut cracking machine from the USA which arrived in Australia in the mid 1940’s. (Hawaiian growers had already established a market in America).
After a few teething problems with the Wiley cracker, Steve began Macadamia Nuts Pty. Ltd. from his garage where his machine was installed. The business grew, although sourcing nuts was a major problem as most of the produce came from backyard trees. The Angus family moved to Brisbane in 1964 and opened Australia’s first purpose-built processing plant at Slacks Creek.
In 1970 ill health forced Steve to retire and in 1971 CSR took over the factory. The Angus family had pioneered macadamia nut processing in Australia.
The Industry in Hawaii is based on some seedling nuts imported from Australia in the 1880’s to be used as a wind break for sugar cane. However, it was found that the macadamias also needed protection from wind.
Aided by land leases from a sympathetic government, Van Tassel was a pioneer of the Hawaiian industry and in 1922 formed the Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Co. which was the first company to adopt large scale plantations and production. Others followed and by 1938 more than 1000Ha had been planted. Research by the US Department of Agriculture and the Hawaiian Agricultural Experiment Station created the basis on which today’s industry operates worldwide.
The industry grows up.
In 1967 Tom Hoult bought 20c. worth of macadamia nuts at a Brisbane department store and was amazed at how few nuts he received. These were very expensive nuts but the taste was superb. He was impressed.
Together with his business partner Mel Braham, Tom began on a journey which now sees them controlling one of the largest macadamia plantations in Australia. Their first plantation at Tuntable Creek proved to be too hilly for mechanised harvesting and the tree stock was successfully moved to a 280Ha property at Dunoon where their company, now called Macadamia Industries Australia Pty. Ltd., now has close to 50,000 trees.
It is estimated the Australian industry is now worth over $100million annually to the national economy. In New South Wales alone there are some 468 registered macadamia orchards.
The industry has finally come of age so that today we can all enjoy the best nut in the world. The quality and pricing has improved and we don’t have to lift a hammer.