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             Macadamia farm

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    Macadamia nuts

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    Macadamia rainforest habitat

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    Macadamia ternifolia leaf and flowers

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    Planting the endangered Macadamia jansenii

 

Evolution

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

The First Australians

Indigenous Australians were the first to harvest and trade macadamia nuts, both as a food source and for other uses. They generously showed the nuts to early explorers and settlers.

There was a diversity of Peoples and languages across macadamia habitat, and original names for the species included Kendal, Gyndl/Jindill, Goomburra, Boombera and Baphal’s nuts.

Cracking rocks have been found that used an efficient technique to crack the shell without shattering the nut within (see photo). A large base rock with a depression is used to hold the nut, which can be placed in the best position for cracking (attachment scar facing down). A flat rock is placed over the nut and a hammer rock used to strike the flat rock. This distributes the force of the blow in a way that encourages a clean break, rather than crushing the shell with a direct hammer blow.

Much of the cultural and natural history of macadamias remains undocumented and the Macadamia Conservation Trust works with Indigenous Australians to preserve and honour this cultural heritage as well as protecting macadamia trees and their habitat.

MCT acknowledges the Traditional Owners of macadamia country and pays respect to past and present elders and the generations yet to come.


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.