Big busi­ness

Through a twist of fate, Christo­pher Dean dis­cov­ered the won­ders of the tea tree oil and helped de­velop an in­dus­try pi­o­neered by his step­fa­ther, Eric White.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ENVIRONMENT - By MA­JORIE CHIEW

Through a twist of fate, Christo­pher Dean dis­cov­ered the won­ders of the tea tree oil.

THE Abo­rig­ines of Aus­tralia had used tea tree ( Me­laleuca al­terni­fo­lia) leaves for var­i­ous ail­ments for thou­sands of years, but it was Eric White who pi­o­neered the tea tree in­dus­try in the 1970s.

He grew his first crop in Bun­gawal­byn Swamp, near Co­raki in north­ern New South Wales. In 1976, on a Thurs­day, he was granted a Crown lease and, Thurs­day Plan­ta­tion, the world’s first com­mer­cial tea tree com­pany, was born.

Be­fore he could build his for­tune on tea trees af­ter three years of plant­ing, har­vest­ing and dis­till­ing tea trees in the harsh bush, his health failed.

In 1978, his step­son Christo­pher Dean was trekking through Africa and con­tracted a se­vere toe­nail in­fec­tion. For five months, he failed to find a cure.

The London School of Trop­i­cal Medicine told him that his in­fec­tion was in­cur­able. The only so­lu­tion was the sur­gi­cal re­moval of the toe­nails and in­fected tis­sues.

Around this time, his brother Michael Dean ar­rived in London on busi­ness and brought a bot­tle of tea tree oil pro­duced by White.

Within 10 min­utes of ap­ply­ing the oil, the in­tense itch­ing and agonising pain of the in­fec­tion less­ened. Within four hours, the swelling of the toes and red­ness sub­sided. Within four days, Christo­pher’s toes were com­pletely healed.

De­lighted by the ex­tra­or­di­nary ben­e­fits of tea tree oil, Christo­pher rang home to con­vey his in­ter­est to re­join his step­fa­ther. Sadly, he learnt that White had suf­fered a ma­jor heart at­tack.

Christo­pher and his wife, Lynda, re­turned to Aus­tralia and moved to the wilds of Bun­gawal­byn to con­tinue White’s legacy.

The re­mote tea tree plan­ta­tion was 17km from the near­est mail and phone ser­vices. It had no power or run­ning wa­ter and the land was reg­u­larly in­un­dated and cut off, some­times for weeks by floods. But Christo­pher was un­de­terred and con­tin­ued White’s work with a pas­sion.

A new dawn

The Deans pro­duced tea tree oil from a tra­di­tional bush cut­ting method. They sold bot­tles of it at lo­cal mar­kets and the peo­ple quickly dis­cov­ered the oil’s ben­e­fits for a gamut of skin prob­lems, in­clud­ing pso­ri­a­sis, sores, eczema, rashes, cuts, burns and pim­ples.

Recog­nis­ing that they could not do much to pro­mote the tea tree oil with­out funds, the Deans who were in­stru­men­tal in set­ting up the Aus­tralian Tea Tree In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion, lob­bied the govern­ment to sup­port re­search and raise aware­ness of the won­ders of the Aus­tralian tea tree oil. The Aus­tralian govern­ment backed them with agri­cul­tural re­search and sci­en­tific stud­ies on the ap­pli­ca­tions of the oil.

In 1980, Thurs­day Plan­ta­tion be­came the first com­mer­cial tea tree brand to gain world­wide recog­ni­tion for the ther­a­peu­tic prop­er­ties of tea tree oil.

In 1988, Thurs­day Plan­ta­tion bought de­graded cat­tle and sugar farm­lands to es­tab­lish sus­tain­able and eco­log­i­cally-sound tea tree pro­duc­tion. The Bal­lina fac­tory dis­tilled its first oil in 1989 and in 1990, sci­en­tists be­gan work in the R&D lab­o­ra­to­ries.

To­day, Thurs­day Plan­ta­tion is part of In­te­gria Health­care, which has made a name for it­self in nat­u­ral health­care.

Thurs­day Plan­ta­tion was the high­light of a re­cent tour of Bal­lina which In­te­gria or­gan­ised for 20 me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the com­pany’s dis­trib­u­tors from Tai­wan, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Most of us were in awe as we came face to face with tea trees for the first time.

The tour cov­ered vis­its to In­te­gria’s head of­fice in Bris­bane Technology Park, Queens­land. We also vis­ited By­ron Bay Light­house, joined the By­ron Bay Whale Watch­ing Cruise, vis­ited Lone Pine Koala Sanc­tu­ary and went bar­gain hunt­ing at DFO (Di­rect Fac­tory Out­let), Bris­bane.

The orig­i­nal prop­erty at Bun­gawal­byn which was un­der Crown lease had re­verted to the govern­ment. Mostly, only wild tea trees were cut from this prop­erty, ex­plained Mal­colm Gar­diner, site man­ager, In­te­gria (Bal­lina) in an e-mail in­ter­view.

The prop­erty at Bal­lina was bought over and a full-scale plan­ta­tion de­vel­oped where Thurs­day Plan­ta­tion and fac­tory now stand.

At the same time, mil­lions of trees were planted and a sus­tain- able in­dus­try is un­der way to re­verse 200 years of de­for­esta­tion of the tea tree.

Heart­land of tea trees

In 2007, Christo­pher and Lynda Dean, Thurs­day Plan­ta­tion founders, sold TP Health Pty Ltd to In­te­gria Health­care, said Gar­diner.

Thurs­day Plan­ta­tion cov­ers 71ha but only 24ha is planted with tea trees. There are 20,000 trees per hectare.

“The trees are raised from seeds in a nurs­ery un­til they are 15cm tall be­fore they are planted in the plan­ta­tion by ma­chin­ery,” said Gar­diner.

Tea trees can be har­vested more than once a year. But gen­er­ally, the sin­gle an­nual har­vest pro­duces the most eco­nom­i­cal re­turns.

This year, per­sis­tent late au­tumn rain de­layed the late June har­vest un­til early Novem­ber.

Gar­diner ex­plained: “Whilst the trees are na­tive to swamp land and are not af­fected by wet soil, our ma­chin­ery needs rel­a­tively dry ground con­di­tions to op­er­ate safely.”

The trees were flow­er­ing early this year.

“The lo­cals be­lieve that the flow­er­ing of the tea trees in­di­cates the on­set of a long, wet pe­riod. The north coast of New South Wales usu­ally ex­pe­ri­ences a dry pe­riod dur­ing spring and a wet sea­son in sum­mer. How­ever, this year, we have a very wet win­ter and a wet spring is fore­cast,” he said.

Thurs­day Plan­ta­tion plans to har­vest all the trees this month bar­ring fur­ther de­lays due to the rains or ma­chin­ery prob­lems.

“The tea trees are cut as close to the ground as pos­si­ble, about 30cm high, and then slashed (mowed) down to ground level. This causes the trees to ra­toon, send­ing out mul­ti­ple shoots which form a bushy growth. The ma­jor­ity of the oil is pro­duced in the green shoots so a lush growth is de­sir­able,” said Gar­diner, who showed us how amaz­ing and hardy tea trees are.

“We’re not fer­til­is­ing the trees as they are na­tive to very poor soils and pro­duce a crop even with­out fer­tilis­ers,” he said. Also, tea trees have very few pest prob­lems and are sim­ple to main­tain be­tween har­vests.

Yield varies greatly depend­ing on plant­ing den­sity, soil type and rain­fall, and ranges be­tween 100kg and 250kg per hectare.

Thurs­day Plan­ta­tion pro­duces about 10% of the oil re­quired each year to man­u­fac­ture its prod­ucts. The rest of the oil is sourced from lo­cal grow­ers, mostly on the far north coast of New South Wales. The to­tal an­nual pro­duc­tion of tea tree oil is 450 tonnes for the whole in­dus­try.

Thurs­day Plan­ta­tion prod­ucts are sold through­out health food stores and phar­ma­cies in Aus­tralia and in­ter­na­tion­ally. n For more in­for­ma­tion, go to www.thurs­day­plan­ta­tion.com.

Age-old rem­edy – P12

Flour­ish­ing: (clock­wise from top) A bird’s eye view of Thurs­day Plan­ta­tion in New South Wales; Pi­o­neer of Aus­tralia’s tea tree in­dus­try Eric White; Tea tree leaves and flow­ers.

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