Australian macadamias: history in a nutshell

By Elizabeth Ginis August 9, 2017
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Australia leads the world in farming our delicious native nut.

INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS have an association with the macadamia nut as long as their occupation of the continent. The nut was given various names — kindal-kindal and boombera — by Aboriginal groups such as the Budjilla that gathered in northern NSW and south-eastern Queensland to feast on it as well as to use its oil as a base for liniment and face and body paint.

Similarly, latter-day Australians came to know it by various names including bauple, Queensland nut and bush nut. It was botanist Ferdinand von Mueller who gave the macadamia its present European name, which was in deference to his friend, the philosopher Dr John Macadam.

While many pioneers experimented with seedlings, it was on Hawaii that macadamias were first successfully farmed. Based on seeds imported from Australia in the 1880s — the resulting trees intended as windbreaks for sugarcane — the Hawaiian macadamia industry took off in the 1920s and by 1938, 1000 ha were under nut. In the decades that followed, the macadamia became known to much of the world as the “Hawaiian nut”.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that Australia took on the macadamia as a serious commercial crop. Forty years later, more than 12,500 ha are under cultivation. Continued planting on existing properties and on more recent broadacre farms in the Bundaberg district will help double the industry’s nut-producing capacity.

A member of the Proteaceae family, along with grevilleas and banksias, the macadamia doesn’t require irrigation if grown in its natural environment -subtropical eastern Australia – where annual rainfall levels range from 1500-2500 millimetres. Macadamias thrive in daytime temperatures of 25-30°C; for optimal flowering the difference in day and night temperatures should be at least 8°C.

Currently, Australia is the number one supplier of macadamia nuts providing approximately 28 per cent of the world supply of macadamias to more than 40 countries.