Making a living off the land
Opening up the land
Whitewells Station plan
Eucalyptus oil
Shepherds to sheep stations
Fencing the hay paddock
Making hay

Eucalyptus Oil

The Mason story

After about 30 years as an outcamp of Ninghan Station, Whitewells Station got a new lease of life in 1953. Industrial chemist Denis Mason arrived to distill the eucalyptus oil from the native oil mallees.


How we came here was rather a strange story.  Horace Marr was interested in eucalyptus oil at the time, and Charles Gardner - he was a government botanist - he discovered a eucalypt up there, oleosa variety plenissima it is, and he had done some work with Dr Watson down at Tech. I did my chemistry down at Tech under Dr Watson, and he started to interest Horace Playmarr in eucalyptus oil. I was a chemist at Playmarrs in their synthetic chemical department. Yes, my job was to make sandalwood oil, lanolin; they were my two.

Then I left Playmarrs, went into private business, in refrigeration. I was touring around the country and came across quite a bit of this material up around Ninghan, Whitewells and Mt Gibson. So I thought it was an opportunity and got a forest produce licence to produce eucalyptus oil.

It’s rather ironic that Baron von Meuller is responsible for us taking Whitewells.  Eucalyptus oleosa was named by him.

We came up there after having got the forests products licence to distill this oil which is very high quality, 90% cineole, and BP only required 75%.  Cutting the big trees like we were doing, is not really economical – it’s the regrowth. See, the big trees only have about 1% oil in the leaves whereas the regrowth got up to five.

And just at the time we got started and the cost was about four shillings a pound to produce it and the price was about 9 shillings a pound, so we had a reasonable margin. And we were just about to get going and the forests of plantations of eucalypts in Spain that Baron von Mueller had introduced…  and they decided to cut their forests there .. this was a government project. . .and of course they used everything, this was Eucalyptus globulus [the Tasmanian Bluegum].  I guess they used it for timber, they distilled the leaves for oil  - re-distill it to bring it up to the required quality.

The price dropped to four shillings which was cost of production so we had to abandon that. In the meanwhile we got to know the owner Lindsay Macpherson very well, and got a taste for it, and to cut a long story short, we bought Whitewells from him.  

Denis Mason, 4 October 2003, interview by C.Nicholson


Oil Mallees

Eucalyptus oil (mainly cineole) distilled from oil mallee leaves has long been used as a powerful solvent, disinfectant, medicine and perfume. The leaves were a part of the traditional Aboriginal pharmacy. 

The cultivation of oil mallees, a range of eucalyptus species with high cineole content, has become one of the main strategies for revegetating Western Australia's wheatbelt to overcome the extensive soil salinity resulting from overclearing. 

One of the main commercial species grows naturally on Charles Darwin Reserve. What Mason described as Eucalyptus oleosa subspecies plenissima is now the closely related Eucalyptus kochii subsp. plenissima,  on the western edge of its natural distribution. There are other sub-species in the region, and the recently described subsp. amaryssa D. Nicole has been collected on the edge of the cleared paddock near the homestead.

Oil mallee is found more commonly in tree form but if burnt off or cut off at the base will coppice - sprout multiple stems from its underground storage stem, the lignotuber.  These are more easily harvested than felling tall old trees.

Oil mallee and York gum (Eucalyptus loxophleba) can be somewhat similar and often grow together. Oil mallee has rough bark to higher up the trunk and the bark is more stringy and fibrous than York gum. Oil mallee has more linear leaves that are held somewhat erect; they are more glossy and tend to hang down. In general, the buds, flowers and York gum fruit are tiny (3-6mm), whereas those of oil mallee are larger (6-8mm) with a persistent style.



Bush Heritage Australia Logo