Bauple - The Nut and the Mountain

A concise history by Ian McConachie (Chairman of the Macadamia Conservation Trust)

Back in the mists of time and possibly 60 million years ago a rainforest tree evolved and grew up much of the east coast of Australia. With massive climate changes this subtropical tree almost disappeared and only persisted in a small number of rainforest remnants. The most northerly area where the species with the edible nuts survived was Mount Bauple. The tree and its nuts became known as the Bauple, Baphal, Popple or Bopple. Elsewhere they were known as the Queensland, Bush, Australian or Macadamia nut.  Three examples of the trees are in front of the purple building opposite the Mt Bauple Museum at Bauple, south of Maryborough.

Possibly 30,000 years ago the Aboriginal people later to be called the Kabi reached the area, made it their home and discovered the nut. The Mountain became an important cultural and sacred place and the Baphal tree part of their traditions. The Mountain and its surrounds became a meeting place as it was on a major aboriginal trading pathway. The nuts were a special item of trade, a staple food and used for gifts. Because of the relative abundance of nuts in the area they were more important to the Kabi people than to other Aboriginal people. Olga Miller, a Senior Elder of the Budjilla Tribe, retold the Dreamtime Legend where Baphal was sent to guard the Mountain, was injured and survived because his lizard got the wallabies to collect water for him and the cockatoos to bring nuts. His people named the Mountain, the lizard and the nuts after him.

Colleen Wall, a Senior Clan Woman of the Kabi Nation, recently recorded her ancestral Dreamings. Her forebears lived near the Mountain and she expands Olga Millers legend with Bau’pal the lizard being the keeper of the tree which was named after him. The Kabi considered them Moon Nut Trees and having two genders with the halves of the nut kernel representing male and female.

Their discovery by Europeans is a little uncertain. Andrew Petrie, Henry Stuart Russell with Messrs Joliffe and Wrottesley were the first explorers and came up the Mary by boat in 1842. There are Petrie family anecdotal tales that they were the first Europeans to find the nut but this was never recorded. If they fid find the nut possibly they did not consider them important as they did the Bunya. Ludwig Leichhardt in 1843 recorded in his diary that he found the nut on the Mountain and did collect a specimen which is in the Melbourne Herbarium but there are flaws in his notes and dates and some doubt that they were collected from the Mountain.

We can be certain that the early settlers and travellers were shown the nuts by the Kabi people who offered them in trade for food, tobacco, rum and axes. The settlers would have been shown the trees and would have found them as they searched and cleared the land.

There are many records of the nuts being collected by the settlers and Alice Graham from Maryborough recorded many years ago that her grandmother in the 1870’s would travel down to the Mountain with her family in their horse and dray and take several days to fill it with nuts. They would enjoy their time at the Mountain before bringing the nuts back to Maryborough where they would remove the husk by hand and pack them into sacks for sale in Sydney. Amazingly they sold at 1 shilling per pound which indicated how highly they were regarded.

The name Bauple became synonymous with the macadamia from Gympie to Maryborough and Mount Bauple has been widely acknowledged as the ancestral home of the nut. In the past woe betide a visitor to the area who called them Queensland, Bush or Macadamia. The Riley family from Hervey Bay even called their boat the “Bopple”.

But today almost all of the original trees are gone. Surprisingly there are a few trees on the Mountain and surrounding hills and these mainly are growing in dense rainforest and not readily accessible. The size of some of these trees suggests they may be many hundreds if not thousands of years old. It is probable that there were never large numbers on the Mountain but over time the nuts were washed down from the Mountain and grew prolifically on the fertile soils near the creeks, gullies and flats in the general area of the township of Bauple. This would explain why the nuts quickly became well known and easily collected.  Clearing, burning and farming would have resulted in most of these trees being progressively lost. People such as Percy Heilscher from Tinana in the 1930’s collected nuts from wild trees and planted them in Maryborough. One variety bears his name and the Daddow variety considered one of the most productive in the industry came from the well known family home at 346 Lennox St. Maryborough.

The remaining wild trees are important. Their genetics are different from their brothers to the south and some of the cultivated varieties originated from the Mountain. A tribute to the wild trees could be considered the germplasm or conservation collection under the care of the now Fraser Coast Council. These trees are now bearing and are situated east of the highway down Inman Road at Tiaro opposite the Recreation Reserve. They represent much of the germplasm of the wild trees from Lismore to the Mountain. Some of the wild trees from Bauple are included. As can be seen from the fence the varying characteristics of the trees represent much of the genetic diversity of the wild trees.

The Australian Macadamia Society (AMS) has supported conserving the wild trees germplasm through a registered environmental organisation, the Macadamia Conservation Trust.  Donations to the fund can be made on-line by following the links www.macadamias.org

Today the nut is marketed throughout the world and is grown from Atherton in the north to Nambucca Heads in the south as well as Western Australia.  The nut is also being grown overseas in Brazil, South Africa and Hawaii.  The Macadamia nut however remains the only Australian indigenous native fruit exported throughout the world.