||Technology in Australia 1788-1988
Table of Contents
I Management Of Native Forests
II Plantations-high Productivity Resources
III Protecting The Resource
IV Harvesting The Resource
V Solid Wood And Its Processing
VI Minor Forest Products
VII Reconstituted Wood Products
VIII Pulp And Paper
IX Export Woodchips
X Future Directions
Minor Forest Products
Timber was not the only forest product that attracted the attention of the first settlers. As early as 1788 a sample of oil is said to have been distilled from eucalypt leaves at Port Jackson and dispatched to England with commendatory remarks by the Surgeon-General on its medicinal properties. There is also mention of the tanning properties of some of the bark extracts in early records and an instruction from the Colonial Secretary to Governor King in 1802 to ship a quantity back to England. As the new colonies developed small industries were established to utilize these and other useful non-timber forest products. A number for a time enjoyed considerable export markets but most have since succumbed to competitive pressures from cheaper imports or other technologies.
This industry was started in Victoria in 1854 by a pharmacist, J. Bosisto, at the instigation of the Government Botanist of the day, Baron Ferdinand von Mueller. Mountain ash was used initially but later other species were preferred and the industry moved away from the Melbourne area, mainly to north-west Victoria and southern NSW although some oil was also produced in Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland.
The main use for many years was medicinal and for this purpose eucalyptus oil rich in cineol was specified. The blue-leaved mallee (E. polybractea) of north-west Victoria and the Wyalong area of NSW, with a cineol content of 80-90 per cent, became the major species used. Other high oil-yielding eucalypts harvested in the Braid-wood and Cooma areas of NSW, such as the broad-leaved and narrow-leaved peppermints (E. dives and E. radiata) were high in phellandrene and piperitone and used mainly for industrial purposes, for example in disinfectants and soaps. In 1910, however, the use of eucalyptus oils in the flotation separation of metallic sulphides was developed by H. Lavers at Broken Hill and the phellandrene-piperitone type was found to be well-suited for this naturally giving rise to a substantial increase in its production. Some other eucalyptus oils, for example those from the lemon-scented gum (E. citriodora) and the Camden woollybutt (E. macarthurii), found use in perfumery.
Eucalyptus oil production peaked at about 1000 tonnes in 1947 but by 1980 had fallen to 200 tonnes, from about 25 plants. Most producers are small-scale and part-time. Australia still exports oil for the higher value medicinal grade market, mainly to South-east Asia, but for the past twenty years or so has been importing substantial quantities of the lower value industrial grade from South Africa and Swaziland because it can be produced more cheaply there. It also imports from China a by-product eucalyptus-type oil from camphor production which is available in a range of cineol contents. Because of this competition and the proliferation of eucalypt plantations overseas there is now a large potential over-supply and prices have stayed low, making it less attractive for Australian producers to stay in the industry.
Wattle bark was used as a source of tannin for leather tanning as early as the 1820s, when a tannery was established in Sydney, and early tree plantings by the authorities later in the 1800s often included wattles with this use in mind, for example, along the Great Southern Railway in NSW, and in the Adelaide Hills. The main wattle species used have been golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha), black wattle (A. mearnsii) and the early black, or green wattle (A. decurrens). The bark was stripped from mature trees and because of its high tannin content -about 35 per cent -was often shredded or ground and used in the tanning bath as a suspension rather than as the conventional water extract. Substantial quantities of bark began to be exported to the UK in the latter part of the 19th century.
Organisations in Australian Science at Work - CSIRO Division of Forest Products
People in Bright Sparcs - Bosisto, J.; Lavers, H.; von Mueller, Baron Ferdinand
© 1988 Print Edition pages 225 - 226, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher