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- THE BIRTH OF THE BLUE
- FROM PLANTATION TO PERFUME
- 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.
THE ONLY PEOPLE
"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.
|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
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 companys 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
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
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.
- 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 mans 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
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
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
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
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
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
thanks are due to:
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
- Forestry Plantation Project, Melville Island, Northern Territory;
C.J.Lacey, Report to
Resource Assessment Commissions Forest & Timber Inquiry December 1990.
- R.D.Johnston and C.J.Lacey; pers.comm.