Macadamia rainforest habitat
Macadamia ternifolia leaf and flowers
Planting the endangered Macadamia jansenii
Back in the mists of history as Australia was separating from the mega-continent of Gondwana, a flowering plant evolved which was part of the Proteaceae family, which includes Banksia, Grevillea and Hakea.
Fossilised pollen of a plant that we recognise as an ancestor of Macadamia has been found in central Queensland and dated to about 50 million years old.
At that time much of eastern Australia was covered in rainforest and Macadamias existed up much of its east coast.
Massive climate changes resulted in the rainforest retreating and Macadamias came close to extinction.
Isolation and other pressures resulted in Macadamias separating into the four species we recognise today.
Probably since the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago, Macadamias have only existed in isolated pockets in or at the fringe of rainforests, generally near the first inland ranges from the Pacific Ocean.
Gubbi Gubbi man with Macadamia nut cracker stones
Macadamias were a treasured food for aboriginal people.
Some of the Aboriginal names for the nut were Kendal [more correctly something like gyndnl] Goomburra and Boomberra.
Macadamia trees that grew at the fringes of the rainforest were regularly cropped by them.
The Aborigines would have known almost all of these trees and it was mainly the women who searched for, collected the nuts and prepared them.
They sometimes used a very efficient cracker using a rock with a depression in it to hold the nut placing a flat rock over the nut and striking the rock with a rock hammer.
It is believed that they roasted the nut in the ash of their fires and carried them as a non-perishable food source and as a trading commodity with other Aboriginal groups.
They showed the trees and nuts to the explorers and botanists.
Since European settlement
The first Macadamia specimens were collected by the explorer Ludwig Leichardt in 1843 about 60km north of Brisbane.
From 1860, settlers discovered the fine eating qualities of Macadamias, which were subsequently widely planted in farm yards and backyards as single trees grown from seeds of local wild stock.
Macadamia nut industry
The earliest attempts to farm Macadamias date from the 1870s at Rous Mill near Lismore. However the fledgling Australian industry failed to develop through lack of knowledge, native insect pests and fire.
The Hawaiians commercialised the industry in the 1920‘s from wild Macadamia tree seeds sourced from south east Queensland rainforests. Hawaiian varieties became the cultivars of the Australian and global industries, leading the world industry until the 1980’s.
Australia has since taken its place as the world's largest producer of Macadamia nuts. The local industry currently employs about 5,000 people, produces 40,000 tonnes of nuts and directly contributes more than $150million to the Australian economy.
For more information about the Macadamia industry visit the Australia Macadamia Society website.