Ian McConachie with one discovered and endangered macadamia variety.
Ian McConachie with one discovered and endangered macadamia variety. Craig Warhurst

'Macadamias help us live longer'

MACADAMIAS can help us live longer and it is in our interests to return the favour, according to Ian McConachie, managing director of Gympie export processor, Suncoast Gold Macadamias.

Mr McConachie, who is also deeply involved in the Macadamia Conservation Trust, says the trust’s program to find and protect endangered and potentially vital species of macadamia has already struck gold.

One of the endangered varieties now being propagated for preservation, and ultimately sale, has a great taste and a larger kernel than the current commercial strain.

Mr McConachie said even some of the smaller and less palatable varieties have potential to bring new genetic vitality to the crops now being grown in Australia and the USA.

“Good Aussie bubbly is not yet flowing and we are a little daunted by the task ahead, but we are very encouraged by results so far,” he said at his Wolvi nut orchard this week.

One of our national icons and the only indigenous food to be successfully developed as a commercial product so far, the macadamia is a big success story already.

But, as Mr McConachie said, many varieties are endangered, clinging to survival in tiny isolated pockets where even one bushfire could render them extinct.

Those pockets of forest are mostly in our part of the world, the nut being originally known as the Bauple nut, after the near-Gympie district where it was first discovered as an important bush tucker variety.

“If you’re from southern Queensland or northern New South Wales, the chances are you’ve grown up with macadamias,” he said.

“Be they called Bauple, bush, or Queensland nuts, macadamias – like thongs, cricket or the beach – have been part of growing up for many of us,” he said.

It is, he said, a childhood friend that has pretty much grown up with us. “We’ve moved on and the world is a faster, shinier place, but so has our childhood friend.

“We sometimes now see him in glossy magazines or top billing in the better restaurants, moving in the finest of circles,” he said.

But the story of the macca did not begin in anyone’s back yard, but in a land so distant in time, so old and strange, that Mr McConachie said we would not recognise it as Australia.

“As the super continent of Gondwana split apart and the first flowering plants appeared, the macadamia’s ancestors were born,” he said.

“By 40 million years ago, they were part of the vast Australian rainforest that drifted, evolved and endured, with fossilised leaves even found in New Zealand.

“As the climate dried, the world’s oldest rainforests retreated to the wet coastal fringes.

“When Aboriginal people first discovered it, it was already an ancient and battered species.

“Possibly they were decimated by the volcanic eruptions that gave us the Glasshouse Mountains and Mount Warning. And now we are working to preserve that genetic diversity.”

He said the foresight of industry and governments means a new and more secure future.

Gympie Times

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