To see the entire Blue Cypress Website go here...
The History, Development and Marketing
of an Indigenous Australian Essential Oil...
From a presentation given by Bill McGilvray at the 1998 Australian Aromatherapy Conference held in Sydney, Australia
TIWI legend
History of Callitris intratropica
Traditional Uses of Callitris intratropica
Blue Cypress Oil, Its Uses Now and Future Potential
Acknowledgements & References
Applications - Perfumery Use
Since late 1997, The Australian Essential Oil Company has been proud to be able to present its clients with another unique Australian essential oil, an essence more ancient than those of Eucalypts or Melaleucas, distilled from the wood of Callitris intratropica - Blue Cypress Oil. Blue Cypress Oil is at present registered as a Cosmetic Excipient, and we will gradually explore its therapeutic possibilities. Callitris Intratropica, or Northern Cypress Pine, is grown on dry areas of the ‘top end’ of the Northern Territory of Australia, a living remnant of the ancient Gondwanan landscape. It is grown in sustainable plantations and, as with other native cypress species, is valued for its fragrant wood and termite resistance.

The bark resins of this tree have been used by the Tiwi* people of the far North of Australia to treat skin lesions and stomach upsets. C. Intratropica yields a resinous exudate known as Australian Sandarac. When the wood is distilled, an essential oil of deep blue colour, with a subtle woody fragrance, is obtained. The essential oil also appears to confer termite resistance to the wood. In addition, the oil contains geranyl acetate, b-caryophyllene and limonene, which are important fragrance components, as well as guaiazulene, from which the oil obtains its superb blue colour. Guaiazulene which is well known as an anti-inflammatory substance, virtually identical to the chamazulene in European Chamomile Oil. When burnt, the undistilled wood gives off a very fragrant aroma.



Tiwi Legend


"And then MUDANGKALA, the old blind woman, arose from the ground carrying three babies in her arms. As she crawled in darkness across the featureless landscape, sea water followed and filled the imprints left by her body. Eventually pools became one, and formed a channel. The old woman continued her journey overland, and again the moulded earth filled with the flow of water.

Before she left, MUDANGKALA covered the islands she had created with plants and filled the land and sea with living creatures. Finally the land was prepared for her three babies, and for the generations of TIWI who followed."

This extract from the TIWI legend of the creation of the the two islands - now known as Bathurst and Melville Islands, and the water between - Apsley Strait - is paralleled by anthropological and ethnological evidence that the Tiwi people have inhabited these islands for at least 15,000 to 20,000 years, and probably much earlier. At about this time, it is believed that either seas rose or land subsided, thus cutting off that part of the landmass formerly joined to continental Australia via what is now Coburg Peninsula.

Ethnologists Hart, Pilling, and Goodale have pointed out significant physical, cultural, and technological differences between the Tiwis and mainland native peoples which underline the meaning of the name TIWI: " We, the only people". This belief that they were the only people in the world allowed them to regard the mainland as the place where the spirits of dead Tiwis resided, and therefore, not a place for the "only people" to visit.

The first European to record sighting of the islands was Dutch navigator Pieter Pieterzoon on June 13, 1636. He sailed along the north coast of Melville and Bathurst, saw smoke but no further signs of habitation, and named the islands Van Diemensland. Tiwi "Pukamani" grave - Melville Island.
Abel Tasman investigated a little further in 1644, but again there is no record of contact with the Tiwis.

This changed in 1705, when a further three-ship expedition, again commanded by a Dutchman, Maarten van Delft landed at Shark Bay on the North East corner of Melville. He found the Tiwis to be extraordinarily unfriendly and unwelcoming, and after several of his sailors were speared, he was forced to leave. His conclusions were that there were no trading opportunities for the Dutch, the land was unfit for agriculture, and the people were very aggressive in the defence of their country.

These resolutions were fundamental in causing the Dutch to decide that there was nothing for them in the Great South Land, thereby leaving the way open for Captain Cook and the British. Therefore, one can say that those of us of non-Dutch heritage have much to thank the Tiwis for. On the other hand, I am sure that there have been many lengthy discussions on Bathurst and Melville Islands over the relative merits of one white intruder over the other, and many rueful comments about their inability to repel the later invasions!







History of Callitris intratropica

Callitris intratropica

This historical background leads us to one of the resources of the Tiwi Islands which was not observed by the Dutch - Callitris intratropica: Northern Cypress Pine. The first recorded use by Europeans was in 1905 by one Joe Cooper, who milled the timber for building purposes. Coincidentally, at this same time, R.T. Baker and H.G.Smith were assembling their masterly work entitled ‘A Research on the Pines of Australia’ in which, among others, the characteristics and properties of Callitris intratropica were investigated and extensively defined. The wealth of detail in this book inspired me to examine many of the Callitris species, work which I have quietly pursued since the late 1980s. The Callitris species are members of the Southern Conifer group of the CupressaceŠ family, with 14 members in Australia, and two in New Caledonia. In prehistoric times, Callitris, Araucaria, and related species were dominant on the Australian continent, but the coming of man and fire as an agricultural tool led to swift decline of these fire-prone species and the rapid rise of MyrtaceŠ, the fire-loving trees and shrubs.

After looking at several of the southern varieties, I rejected each in turn for one major reason: there were no plantations either in existence or planned, despite a quite extensive sawmilling industry based on naural stands. Although there is a ready availability of sawdust and mill waste for distillation, I could not see a future for an essential oil with poor environmental credentials, particularly in Europe. Since much of my company’s business is conducted in Northern Europe, and since I have personally taken a firm environmental stand in relation to Tea Tree Oil in particular, the oils from these naturally-growing Callitris trees did not meet my criteria for development.

However, through a number of sources I learned of the existence of plantations of Callitris intratropica in the ‘Top End’ of the Northern Territory. I was even more interested when I discovered that the trial plantations were

established on Melville, and the seed sources for the trials and subsequent plantations were trees on Melville Island! The first plantings were conducted in the very early 1960s, and soon after expanded into large-scale plantations, with the intention of providing employment and revenue for the Tiwi people.

Further plantations were established on the Mainland in the mid-to-late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Poor growth rates caused the cessation of Callitris intratropica plantings, and Pinus caribŠa and other species were used in later plantations on both Melville and the Mainland.

By the late ‘70s, rising alarm in Federal Government at the runaway expenditure on Northern Territory timber plantations brought about cessation of forestry activities, and eventual demise of the forestry division of the Northern Territory Lands Department. Cyclone Tracey in late December 1974 caused rapid loss of interest in timber framed houses, and building codes were drastically upgraded to prevent such damage from occurring again. Since then the plantations have been entirely neglected, in some cases burnt or bulldozed out.

A situation was thereby created which fitted my criteria for development of an essential oil industry based on a plantation resource of a unique Australian species. It was then possible to look at the challenging technical problems associated with distillation of an essential oil contained in the wood rather than the leaves, with specific difficulties in regard to the nature of its chemical constituents. Having dealt with those problems and produced an interesting essential oil, we showed a number of friends and clients in Europe. The responses obtained gave us the courage to invest large amounts of money on a test program to enable registration of the oil and trial marketing in Europe and America.

The results of these programs have brought us here today to present to you another unique Australian essential oil, an essence more ancient than those of Eucalypts or Melaleucas, distilled from the wood of Callitris intratropica. I have called named it ‘Australian Blue Cypress Oil’ because of the beautiful cobalt blue colour obtained during distillation.





Traditional Uses of
Callitris intratropica
For thousands of years, the aboriginal people of Australia have used the vast store of natural foods and medicines available throughout the continent. The traditions of use have largely been lost in areas where social pressures and the attractions of the white man’s ways of living have lured people from their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

The traditional ways are still very much in evidence in the centre, north and western areas of Australia, and the methods of preparation and patterns of usage are being thoroughly documented to augment the oral tradition that the aboriginal people have used for countless generations to hand down their manner of use of natural plant medicines.

Preparation and use of essential oil-bearing plants is a major part of the aboriginal pharmacopŠia, and different communities often use the plants within their area differently to others. In part, this is because of the variation in chemical constituents of the oils from area to area, and in part because the patterns of use in one community have led to particular qualities being ascribed to the plant, often completely different from elsewhere.

Traditional methods of using essential oil-bearing plants are:

i) crush the leaves or plant parts either in the hand or in a container, and inhale the oil vapours,
ii) crush the leaves or plant parts and apply as a poultice, covered with clay or bound with bark.
iii) cut pieces of bark from the tree and wrap the part of the body being treated, tying the bark on with vines.
iv) throw the bark or leaves onto heated stones or into warm ashes, and inhale the vapours,
v) bark is pounded, placed in water, and heated. The liquid is then spread over the body part being treated.

The Tiwis and some mainland aboriginal groups use Callitris intratropica, KARNTIRRIKANI in the Tiwi language, in very specific ways:

1. As a wash: About a handful of freshly gathered inner bark is pounded and heated in approximately 500mls of water. The cooled liquid is spread over the body, and a long strand of inner bark is wrapped around the abdomen to relieve abdominal cramps. The wash is also applied to sores and cuts. It is occasionally used internally for abdominal pain and discomfort.

2. As an insect repellent: The bark is thrown into the camp fire to drive off mosquitoes and midges.

3. As an analgesic: The wood ashes are mixed with water and smeared over the affected part of the body, and are claimed to relieve minor aches and pains.






Blue Cypress Oil:
Its Uses Now and Future Potential
After long involvement in the problems of "retro-registration" of Tea Tree Oil, we were determined to set Blue Cypress Oil on a course which would avoid the great difficulties faced by any essential oil in the legitimisation of therapeutic and other claims, often based on anecdotal and/or empirical evidence.

While Tea Tree and many other essential oils are being subjected to scientific investigation which may validate many of the traditional uses, manufacturers and marketers continue to jeopardise much of the work by making unwarranted, exaggerated, and sometimes highly irresponsible statements about the essential oil or its products. Once the wild statements are made, they weigh heavily on the legitimacy of the essential oil for its traditional uses, and force researchers into defensive positions, trying to repair the damage done (i.e. pharmaceutical claims for Tea Tree in Germany), or even causing reluctance to investigate (i.e. burn treatments using Tea Tree, Lavender, and others ).

Therefore, we have at this stage registered Blue Cypress Oil only as a "Cosmetic Excipient". The implication of this registration is that it is suitable for use in cosmetics and perfumes, has no adverse effects on the skin, particularly at formulated product concentrations, and no claims are made for the oil as an active ingredient.

We will shortly embark on European and American registrations at the same fundamental level to enable us to market larger quantities for use in cosmetics and perfumes. In time, and in collaboration with interested parties, we will move to substantiate the empirical data that we have regarding anti-inflammatory properties in particular. These properties are hardly surprising, since one of the constituents of the oil is guaiazulene, already known as an anti-inflammatory agent, and also registered 20 years ago as safe natural colour with the US Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics arm of the FDA. We are also aware of a number of other very exciting possibilities, but will curb our excitement, and slowly and laboriously, at great expense build up clinical data to the point where we can make legitimate therapeutic claims.

Aromatically speaking, Blue Cypress Oil is in some respects similar to Sandalwood Oil (Santalum album), West Indian Sandalwood Oil (Amyris balsamifera ), Oil of Guaiac Wood (Bulnesia sarmienti), and Vetiver Oil (Vetiveria zizanioides) and perhaps some of the Cedarwood oils, particularly Juniperus virginiana. Long-lasting warm, woody base notes with earthy and smoky tones summarise the organoleptic qualities of the oil. It combines well with lavender, lemon myrtle, the citrus oils, and floral oils. We are working with Dr. Jurgen Klein of Jurlique International, and several very prominent European and American companies to develop a repertoire of fragrances using Blue Cypress Oil.

Clearly, we have just embarked on a new aromatic journey, with much more yet to unfold. Our goal is to progressively build on this foundation and release, as they become available, scientifically-validated data pointing to new uses for Blue Cypress Oil in all of the areas in which essential oils rightfully belong. I hope that some of those announcements will be made at future Australian Aromatherapy Conferences, and I look forward to the opportunity to present them.







Applications: Perfumery Use

Oil of Callitris Intratropica, is similar in some ways to Sandalwood Oil (Santalum album), East Indian Sandalwood Oil (Amyris balsamifera) and Oil of Guaiac Wood (Bulnesia sarmeienti) and may be used in similar applications in perfumes, fragrances and personal products, with the following additional appeal:

Superb azure-blue colouring: This gives manufacturers an added bonus, since it is entirely natural, attractive in its own right, and can be modified with other essential oils or natural colourants.

Appealing scent. The woody fragrance is modified by floral notes from the geranyl acetate, clove notes from the carophyllene, and citrus notes from the limonene. The result is distinctive enough to establish its own reputation, without being so unusual as to be difficult to blend with other essences.

* Ref: Traditional Aboriginal Medicines: The Aboriginal Communities of the Northern Territory, pp74-77.






Special thanks are due to:

Marius Puruntatameri, Chairman; Cyril Rioli, Matthew Wonaeamirri, Jimmy Tipungwuti, and Walter Kerinaiua, Trustees and Managers, John Hicks, General Manager, of the Tiwi Land Council; Bernard Tipiloura and many other Tiwi people to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for the help that has been generously given to me on a wide range of matters related to the Tiwis, their culture, and Callitris intratropica.

Merv Haines, Doug Johnston, Chris Lacey and others associated with Northern Territory Forestry and CSIRO for detailed information on the plantations.

Fellow workers in the Australian Cypress Oil Company Pty.Ltd. - Chemist Brad Fredericks, and General Manager John Mills.

My wife Judith, who has kept a light burning brightly when I needed it most.


The Legend of Mudangkala, from the Tiwi Land Council Fifteenth Annual Report.
Tiwi Land Council Eighteenth Annual Report.
A Research on the Pines of Australia; R.T.Baker & H.G.Smith, pp 60-67, 172-181; Govt. Printer, 1910.
Ecology of the Southern Conifers; edited by N.J. Enright & R.S.Hill pp 254-272, Melbourne Uni. Press 1995.
Tiwi Ethnobotany; members of the Tiwi people and J. Wilson & G. Wightman.
An Outline of the History of Bathurst and Melville Islands; compiled by P. Forrest.
Traditional Bush Medicines; The Aboriginal Communities of Northern Territory of Australia, Greenhouse Publications, 1988.
Traditional Aboriginal Medicines; The Aboriginal Communities of Northern Territory of Australia, Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory, 1993.
Native Plants of Northern Australia; J. Brock, Reed Publishing.
Forest Trees of Australia; Boland, Brooker, Chippendale, Hill, Hyland, Johnston, Kleinig & Turner, CSIRO.
The Status and Termite Durability of Northern Cypress Pine; F.J.Gay & R.W.Evans, Australian Forestry 32, pp 80-91.
Forestry in the Top End of the Northern Territory; C.J.Lacey, Search Vol 10 No. 5,pp 174-180.
Forestry Plantation Project, Melville Island, Northern Territory; C.J.Lacey, Report to Resource Assessment Commission’s Forest & Timber Inquiry December 1990.
R.D.Johnston and C.J.Lacey; pers.comm.