Statham-Drew, Pamela 2007, 'Sandalwood: WA's sometime saviour', Fremantle Studies, 5: 87-105.
From its inception in 1844 until today, when it earns millions of dollars in export revenue, the Western Australian (WA) sandalwood industry has played a small but at times very significant role in our economic development.
Sandalwood has come to the aid of Western Australians in three main ways:
• assisting recovery from depression,
• providing the motivating force behind the introduction of convicts,
• providing prospectors with the wherewithal to continue prospecting for gold.
The history of the industry falls into two major stages:
1. the free exploitation of Australian grown sandalwood to 1929, and
2. government controlled exploitation from 1929 until now.
Both will be examined in turn, although most of the assistance provided in the preceding list occurred in the first stage.
A Izzy Orloff’s evocative photograph of sandalwood stacks being loaded at Fremantle c1924 (courtesy Dr Renee Hirsch)
Sandalwood is a highly aromatic wood that has been highly prized for centuries, particularly by the Chinese and Indians. It is mentioned in one of the oldest pieces of Indian literature dated 2000BC. Powdered sandalwood is burnt in joss sticks as incense and forms an integral part of religious ceremonies, 1 while certain species of the wood can be carved into many delicate forms such as fans, inlaid boxes and ornaments and incense holders. Sandalwood cones, again of powdered wood, are used today as mosquito deterrents. Large carved sandalwood boxes have been especially valued as bride or trousseau boxes, as the wood is said to deter moths and other insects.
Sandalwood oil, when distilled from the heartwood, is equally valuable being used as a xative in making soaps and perfumes and for medicinal purposes. It is mostly used today in perfumes but up to World War Two (pre-penicillin) it was used to treat venereal disease. 2
The many uses of sandalwood and its religious significance to vast populations on the one hand, and the relative scarcity of the wood and its very slow growth rate (20 years to maturity) on the other, have combined to make it an extremely valuable commodity in many parts of the world.
Although sandalwood grows in a number of countries, most consume it domestically. There are also several nations where the tree does not grow but demand is high (eg Singapore and China) so there is a large excess international demand for the fragrant wood and Australia, which is basically a non-user, has become one of the principal suppliers.
The most common sandalwood (and best known world wide) is Santalum Album, which grows in the Pacific Islands (thought to have originated in Timor) and in India. All varieties of Santalum are very slow growing (20 + years to maturity) and are parasitic; that is, need a host to absorb nitrogen like the WA Christmas Tree. Australia has several native species within the broad genus Santalum, but only three have been used for export because of their ‘true sandalwood’ fragrance. These three types of Santalum can also be ranked in terms of quantities exported; being Santalum spicatum, Santalum lanceolatum and Santalum persicarium.
The first Santalum spicatum (also called Santalum cygnaum) has been the major export earner and it ourishes mainly in WA. Originally it grew in a broad band behind the Darling Ranges from above the Murchison River to Esperance and extended inland to the Eastern Goldfields. 3 It also grew on the western borders of the Nullabor in South Australia. Spicatum differs markedly from other Santalum varieties in that it is a many branched tree and it grows in dry regions. It is still a parasite (with a preference for our Jam trees) and very slow growing. It also grows in clumps with large distances between with the seeds distributed by running emus.
The second type is Santalum lanceolatum. The Lanceolatum variety ourishes in Northern Australia; in the Kimberley in WA4 and in North Queensland above Cairns and in the Hughenden-Cloncurry area. Interestingly, four tons of Northern Queensland wood was used at Gandhi’s funeral in 1948. 5 The northern species of sandalwood was highly prized by Aboriginal people as the scent of the wood is regarded as one of the fundamental elements in sex-magic. 6 The value thus placed on the wood prevented its ready exchange with visiting Macassan fishermen and hence delayed world cognisance of its existence until the mid 19th century. 7
The third type, Santalum persicarium, is inferior to the other two in fragrance and oil-content, but has occasionally been exploited in South Australia and Queensland. 8
Another type of the Santalum species is the Desert Quandong which grows on sandy soils along the coastal plain. The Quandong has an edible fruit but its wood is not fragrant so it is not a true sandalwood.
In the period 1844 to 1929 WA was a major exporter of sandalwood, which was purchased mainly by Chinese merchants in Singapore and Shanghai to be powdered for incense.
An overview of the volumes of wood exported from WA in this period of free exploitation, however, reveals three separate phases:
1. 1844 - 1880 - discovery and initial exploitation,
2. 1880 - 1918 - the golden era when sandalwood and gold prospecting were closely linked, and
3. 1918 – 1929 - a rapid boom; the entry of other states and first attempts to regulate the industry.
At the end of the Opium Wars in 1840 prices for sandalwood on the world market rose rapidly, encouraging participation by Sydney merchants who had benefited in an earlier boom by importing the wood from nearby Pacific Islands and re-exporting it to China for precious cargoes of tea.
News of their windfall profits travelled quickly west to the Swan River Colony where a decline in immigration and a critical trade deficit were seriously alarming the government of the fifteen year old colony. 9 By 1843, the depression that had crippled New South Wales, Van Diemen’s Land and South Australia had finally caught up with WA. Unemployment was mounting and activity was at a standstill so the news of a potential new export did not go unheeded.
It is thought that Indian and Chinese labourers, introduced in the late 1830s and early 1840s to work for some of the Swan River pastoralists, first recognised the commercial potential of the wood, although it had been noted in the Avon Valley by the explorer Ensign Dale in 1832.
Sufficient interest was aroused for the Government to agree mid 1844 to send a trial shipment of the wood on the colonial schooner Champion to Bombay to ‘test the market’. 10 Enormous excitement greeted the news on the Champion’s return early in 1845 that the wood would fetch £10 per ton in Bombay or Mauritius and £20-£30 per ton if taken direct to Canton. 11 Exports of heavy timber and whale oil and bone from Swan River were returning no more than £4/10/- per ton at that time. Whale products were also far more costly to exploit than the light, spindly and fragrant sandalwood.
At first, activity was centred in the Avon Valley where trees were simply felled with an axe, stacked and sent by bullock dray down to Fremantle for export. The unemployed streamed over the hills in search of the wood and those with properties in the area quickly took advantage of this antidote to their previous woes.
When the first commercial cargoes reached Bombay; the closest appropriate port, the WA wood was subject to close scrutiny. Buyers concluded that while not suitable for carving given its lower oil content, the aromatic quality of the WA wood was excellent. This was a sought after characteristic for wood to be pulverized into powder for incense and the largest demand for the wood came from the joss stick and incense makers.
The butt and roots of the sandalwood tree had higher oil content than branches so were particularly valuable for powder and so trees were later ‘pulled’ out by horse or camel and chains, rather than felled, before they were trimmed of bark, cut into sticks and stacked. 12 About 200 of the three foot sticks constituted a ton and payment was made by the ton on delivery to the merchants at Guildford. From there the wood would be shipped to the port of Fremantle.
By mid 1847 ‘sandalwood mania’ had gripped Swan River Colony’s population. Feverish competition arose between landowners and labourers as they laid claim to sandalwood abundant areas. In the more settled areas workmen deserted their employers to go cutting sandalwood or charged exorbitant wages to stay. Farmers were also complaining about the difficulty of procuring transport to bring in supplies and take out their produce, as most of the bullock teams and horse drays were committed to the sandalwood trade. 13
In fact, the increased inland road traf c put enormous pressure on the colony’s few main roads and the cleared tracks soon deteriorated into deep rutted and hole pitted nightmares for the wagoners. To rectify the situation the government decided in mid 1847 to impose an export tax of £1/ton on sandalwood, but strong opposition led to its replacement in October that same year by a system of licences to cut in a particular area. 14
Some idea of the extent of the boom can be gauged from export figures of the time (Table 1) which show sandalwood to have risen from virtually zero in 1844 to a position where in 1848 it challenged whale oil and wool as a leading export earner. 15 In April 1848 it was said that stacked stocks covered more than one acre. 16
By this time however most of the sandalwood stands in the Avon Valley had been exhausted and cutting teams had to venture further and further inland for payable loads. Transport costs gradually became prohibitive for, as Eliza Brown recorded, ‘it cost eight or nine times more to send a wagon load from Fremantle to the Avon Valley than it did to send it from London to Fremantle’. 17
All would have been well if overseas prices of sandalwood had risen to cover the extra transport costs, or if the wood had been easily regrown within a feasible distance from the port. But neither of these occurred. Regrowth was prevented by lack understanding of the parasitic nature of the tree, while oversupply of sandalwood on the Chinese market brought prices tumbling down in the second half of 1848. 18
By mid 1849 the boom was over. 19 Cutting all but ceased. Throughout that year cutting teams slowly returned to the towns to seek alternative work but their return resulted in rising unemployment in Perth and Fremantle. This 1849 unemployment rather flew in the face of the labour-scarcity arguments then being forwarded by the York pastoralists who were lobbying for the introduction of convicts. 20 However it had been the scarcity of manpower caused by the sandalwood boom in 1846-47 that had motivated the York pastoralists to request a small number of first offenders be sent out and removed at the end of their sentences. At first the Legislative Council would not hear of it, but the pastoralists’ petition had been received in England where there was a problem about where to send increasing numbers of convicts, as transportation to NSW had ceased in 1840 and all other dominions were against the idea.
In any event Queen Victoria signed an Order-in-Council constituting WA ‘a place of transportation’ for any numbers of convicts in May 1849, but instructions were given that the order not be published in Hansard as neither the Governor nor colonists had been told. This nevertheless had its advantages as it gave colonists the moral power to argue for, and get, certain conditions such as a commensurate immigration of free settlers, only male convicts, and full nancial support from the British Government. 21
Somewhat surprisingly, the cheap labour of the convict era (1850-1868) did not bring about any major resurgence of sandalwood cutting activity. Prices remained low until 1859 when they began to rise to around £13 per ton in nearby markets and £20 per ton in China. 22 Between 1861 and 1865, some 2300 tons of the wood was exported, at an average price of £9 per ton. 23 As diminishing returns started to impact in the late 1860s and supplies of the wood came from further afield, costs increased and reduced profits.
This was a period of rapid pastoral expansion onto leased crown land in the Murchison area, which also contained sandalwood. Two discoveries were made by jackaroos in this period that helped the graziers and possibly slowed exploitation of the wood; first that sandalwood nuts could cure attacks of stomach cramp and diarrhoea – and were soon carried in most stockmen’s pockets - and second that sandalwood foliage could provide excellent feed for sheep and cattle.
Extreme yearly uctuations in exports could occur in this period through shipping delays (both down the river and overseas) and by the natural hazards of bush res and oods. There were also variations due to supply conditions in overseas markets on arrival, which depended on the season and the frequency of supply vessels.
From 1868 to 1880 a total of 58656 tons was exported with annual tonnages rising on trend over the period. By the late 1870s the Mysore sandalwood plantations in India failed to meet domestic demand and restrictions were placed on export. As a result Indian demand increased while competition in other markets was cut, allowing the WA industry to treble in size. 24 The peak of 9605 tons exported in 1882 was not surpassed for almost forty years, though annual export tonnages remained high. The 1880s ushered in a new phase.
This period of WA’s history is dominated by the discovery of gold and sandalwood began to acquire a reputation as ‘the gold digger’s best friend’.
When prospectors found gold in the Kimberley region in the 1880s it was in small scattered locations. 25 But northern gold finds were soon totally eclipsed by the discovery in the early 1890s of gold at Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. Prospectors from everywhere flocked to the elds, WA’s population increasing 46% in three years. 26 When in need of provisions diggers took to cutting stands of sandalwood as merchants would exchange supplies for the wood, supplies that would allow them to prospect again. This relationship between gold discoveries and sandalwood cutting still exists today.
While alluvial gold was easily obtained there was little incentive to seek out and pull sandalwood but as surface gold became harder and harder to find after 1895 sandalwood provided a welcome substitute. 27 Sandalwood stands were (and still are) fairly abundant in the eastern Goldfields region and exploitation of this area led to the third main sandalwood boom from 1896 to 1911, when annual quantities exported reached 8000 and 9000 tons. 28
The construction of railways in the 1880s and 1890s also significantly reduced transport costs in getting the wood to the Fremantle port so, with high world prices and lower costs, cutting the wood became an attractive occupation for those who could take the isolation.
As sandalwood’s value as an export commodity became more widely recognised, fears began to be entertained about the industry’s long-term survival. The Department of Woods & Forests created in 1896 29 made attempts to conserve and extend sandalwood resources, particularly though reafforestation programs, but few of these proved successful. Even when the matter of a suitable host for the infant plants had been determined, germination was not uniform, and pests and grazing animals (especially rabbits) destroyed most seedlings. 30
In November 1908 the old licence system was repealed and instead a royalty system of 5/- per ton was introduced. 31
1913 saw the beginning of another sandalwood venture in WA when a man named Braddock established a distilling plant at Belmont to produce sandalwood oil. By 1917 he was exporting over 3000lbs (about 1250 kilos) of the oil to England where there was a ready market. 32 The British Medical Association had just announced that sandal-oil when used in capsule form helped in the cure of venereal disease. 33 As the oil was also used as an antiseptic, a fixative in perfumes and as a base for soaps and creams, demand was high both at home and abroad.The export of WA sandalwood did well throughout the war years and by 1916 commanded four-fifths of the Chinese market. 34 WA’s good fortune was not lost on other states which looked to join the sandalwood boom.
Increased activity after World War One was primarily due to a significant rise in overseas prices. From an average £10 - £13 per ton in China before the war, by 1920 merchants were receiving an average £36/ton. 35 As a result WA exported some 14355 tons of sandalwood in the year 1919-192036, the highest annual export quantity ever recorded.
Concerned about the ‘frenzied’ cutting of sandalwood, the Government decided that more regulation was necessary. Despite vigorous opposition from the Goldfields population 37, the royalty payable on sandalwood cut from crown land was increased from 5/- to £2 per ton in March 1920. 38 This did little to discourage the sandalwood getters however, and continued overproduction of cut wood led to the accumulation of huge sandalwood stacks on the wharves at Fremantle. 39
Real fears were expressed about the future of the industry and new regulations were introduced in 1923 involving a quota on wood cut from crown land and rangers to prevent illegal cutting. 40 It was hoped that by restricting supply the world price of sandalwood could be forced upwards so gaining maximum benefit from the large stocks of wood still held in Fremantle and at country rail sidings. This curb on the industry reduced the record profits of the early 1920s and spelt the end for some of the contracting companies that had grown up in the good years. Four rms continued: Paterson and Co, Western Australian Sandalwood Co-op, J Hector and Sons and Burridge and Warren, but they were only permitted to remove 500 tons between them per month. 41
There remained one loophole as the regulations only applied to sandalwood cut on crown land and in no way restricted the pulling of sandalwood from private property.42 In consequence the amount of wood delivered to country sidings continued to increase. 43 But the four licensed companies had worries on other fronts, when in 1925 South Australia (SA) entered the sandalwood market44 after a WA sandalwooder pointed out stands east of the Nullabor. 45
Queensland was still producing sandalwood, but this did not worry the WA merchants as Queensland only had very small quantities of the wood.
SA was a very different matter as it was attempting to break into markets that the WA merchants had considered theirs entirely, and offering their wood which was on average slightly inferior in quality at lower prices. 46 This they could do easily as they paid no royalty at that time. 47 In January 1927 representatives of the SA and WA governments met to discuss control of sandalwood pulling. It was finally agreed that total quotas be set for each state; 2600 tons for SA and 5400 tons for WA, roughly a 1/3 - 2/3 split. 48 The agreement was successful, neither state reaching their quota, and it was continued in future years. A Sandalwood Merchants Association was formed in 1928 49 to deal with overseas buyers on behalf of both the WA and SA companies. 50
Partly to combat this growth of countervailing power and protect the getters and partly to close the private property sandalwood loophole, the WA government decided to introduce further legislation to effectively control the industry. The strict controls that ensued in 1929, combined with a world depression, introduced a new and less active stage for the industry as a whole.
This stage can be divided into three phases:
1. 1929 - 1943 when additional controls were implemented,
2. 1945 - 1971 when the oil industry was active but sandalwood export languished,
3. 1971 to the present day when sandalwood becomes the million dollar tree.
The W.A. Sandalwood Control Act of 1929 51 effectively closed all previous loopholes. It ratified the agreement with SA, setting Australia-wide quotas, but went much further. In any one year only 10% of WA’s total quota could come from private property. Moreover all wood taken from private property was to be branded before it was removed and a fee of £1 per ton levied for the service.
By this time the four private companies were in a parlous state. China was torn by civil war and demand for sandalwood had collapsed. 52 Huge stocks had accumulated and, by June 1930, 7000 tons were stacked at the port. The four companies could not even pay the pullers for orders given, causing great distress in the Goldfields areas. 53
To relieve the situation the government of the day negotiated an agreement with the four companies to buy up all existing stocks on the condition that they would combine their sandalwood interests in one new company. 54 This was agreed to in 1930 and the Australian Sandalwood Company Ltd came into being 55; a company that lasted until 1994.
A new export agreement with SA was negotiated in July 1932 56 and involved total and state quotas, a xed price to sandalwood getters and royalties to each government. In WA provision was also made for 50% of its quota to be taken from accumulated stocks and the remainder from new pulling. In this way it was hoped to reduce surplus stocks while maintaining employment in the industry. 57
It is perhaps strange that no attempt was made at this stage to involve Queensland in the export agreement, for in 1932, the year of the agreement, Queensland wood accounted for some 17% of total Australian sandalwood exports. Although for the rest of the decade its exports remained well below 10% and all activity in Queensland ceased in 1940 up to 1982. 58
For SA and WA the policy of restricted supply embodied in the Export Agreement worked well as prices rose throughout the 1930s despite continued disruption in China, as a result of civil war and abnormal floods. 59 With higher prices, the scaled royalties increased to over £11/ton by June 1933.60 By that time the accumulated stocks in WA had all but been liquidated and the number of orders issued to getters increased - not only for wood for export but also wood for oil distillation.
In 1922 Plaimar Ltd, representing the interests of the Plaistowe Confectionary Co and the chemist-cum-manufacturer JH Marr, had taken over Braddocks sandalwood oil distillery and became the only sandalwood oil producer in Australia. 62 Although figures are incomplete they indicate that the industry continued to flourish throughout the 1930s until affected (as was sandalwood exported) by a further deterioration of conditions in China and the outbreak of World War Two.
No wood or oil was exported from Australia in 1944-1845, and neither Queensland nor SA re-entered the trade on the cessation of hostilities. In WA however, activity revived quickly to enter a new phase of increasing market dominance.
Up until World War Two there had been no difficulty in sandalwood cutters fulfilling orders as alternative employment was still relatively hard to find. After the war however, many of the old-timers were unwilling to re-enter the industry as they would need to re-equip and the old price per ton offered to getters was not attractive in the buoyant post war economy. To overcome this, the WA government negotiated new terms. The royalty was to be dropped to a at £9 per ton, getters were to be paid £17/10/0 a ton and the government was to receive a share in the profits of the trade, which would be collected by the Forests Department. 63 The average price for sandalwood in 1943 was about £40/ton and rising. 64 The actual dimension of the government’s share in the Australian Sandalwood Company’s profit was not stated 65, and is still not readily divulged today. 66 It is recorded however, that between 1946 and 1949 the government took about two-thirds of the company’s net profit.
With the hefty increase in the price of sandalwood per ton after the war some people questioned the feasibility of continuing oil distillation. The oil yield of WA wood is quite low and the price of oil differed according to whether the oil was sold locally or overseas; the domestic price being some 46% lower than that prevailing in China. 67. Oil production continued until 1971, peaking in 1961.
Despite problems in attracting getters, exports of sandalwood rose in the early 1950s. The local price to getters was increased to £26/ton in 1951 but even so the Forests Department reported difficulty in filling orders. 68 In 1954 the trade was threatened by the communist take-over in China, as they banned the burning of joss sticks in religious ceremonies, but the resulting increase in numbers of expatriate Chinese in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Formosa and Thailand meant that total demand remained high. 69
In 1955 there were just 13 registered sandalwood pullers in WA, a huge drop from the 200-400 employed in the 1920s and 1930s. 70 To an extent this drop in numbers employed can be explained by changing technology, for by the 1950s trucks had replaced the camels and oxen of the 1920s, and simple stripping machines the backbreaking job of adzing off the outer sapwood, which in the 1920s had been carried out either by a partner or by women. 71 Nevertheless it was reported in 1955- 1956 that overseas demand was continuing to exceed supply and that more pullers were needed. 72 Attention to reafforestation also increased in the post war period and pullers were encouraged to replace trees with sandalwood nuts. 73
From the mid 1950s to the end of the 1960s production and export of sandalwood and oil from WA uctuated considerably – from as much as 400 to 800 tons per annum - but remained highly profitable. Oil exports were also lucrative, reaching a maximum 13637lbs (5682 kilos) in 1961 extracted from 15% of the total tonnage of wood pulled in WA. But the huge gap between the price that distillers were prepared to pay for wood and the price that the same wood could command on overseas markets (a gap of $655 in 1968) was becoming dif cult to sustain. As a partial solution, the manager of the Australian Sandalwood Company arranged in 1964-1965 to import higher, oil-bearing sandalwood from Indonesia for the Plaimar oil company as it was more ef cient to do so than to lose local supplies for the overseas wood market. 74 In 1969 the distillery increased its buying price but to little avail, for all distillation of sandalwood oil ceased in 1971 when Plaimar rationalized its undertakings. 75 This was perhaps fortunate as world sandalwood prices escalated rapidly from 1971 onwards, ushering in a new phase in the long history of our sandalwood trade.
During the 1970s prices for sandalwood rose by around 50%. Although the sharp inflation of the period accounts for much of this price rise it was interesting because the decade saw a significant increase in the amount of dead wood included in the export figures - wood that previously had been discarded. 76 Called ‘pieces’ in the trade, dead wood when powdered is only marginally less fragrant than average green wood, although considerably less so than the roots and butts of the green tree where the greatest percentage of oil can be found. Also during the 1970s the condition that sapwood had to be removed from sticks before delivery was lifted, and now wood is delivered ‘undressed’ but cleaned of bark.
The very recent history of the industry has followed the trend set in the 1970s. Rising Chinese populations have significantly increased the demand for joss sticks and, as Australia is still the dominant supplier (with 94% of the joss stick sandalwood market), it is a sellers market. Prices are negotiated each year by the company’s representatives and have continued to escalate.
Between 1970 and 1980 prices for Spicatum logs rose from $636 per ton to $1377. By 1990 it had gone up to $5757 for green wood and $7573 for roots and butts. In 1990 the price of Santalum album in the United States was $4000/ton and in 2004 it was USD$42536/ton. By 2005 heartwood prices had risen another 35% to USD$66500/ton (AUD$85300).
Prices for Spicatum are lower but have followed this same trend. Across all grades Spicatum fetched between AUD$6-7000/ton in 1999 and by the end of 2005 had topped AUD$15000/ton.
The profitability of the trade has resulted in renewed export attempts from Queensland. Although quantities exported are still small there is considerable interest from both the government and mining companies operating in northern Queensland in cutting the wood and in reafforestation for the future. It now has an export quota of 500 tons per annum – an estimated sustainable harvest - which it finds difficult to fulfil. The WA quota is 2000 tons per annum and has been since the 1980s.
In 1994 the Australian Sandalwood Company was taken over by Wescorp International. They continued to employ the 12 licensed cutters who each had specific tonnage quotas from the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC - formerly the Department of Conservation and Land Management). Wescorp was soon making some $12 million a year from WA sandalwood, adding substantially to the government’s coffers.
For the WA government sandalwood is very much a million dollar tree. In addition to royalties, which are set as a given percentage of the freight on board price negotiated for each shipload, and the profit-share that the company has to pay to the WA government, an annual amount is also paid to DEC to cover administration expenses. These include field inspections, controlled by the regional manager (who issues licences) and secretarial assistance at head office. 77
DEC estimated in 1985 that at the current rate of pulling there are enough commercially viable green stands now in WA to last 23 years. 78 The maturation of immature trees and continued collection of dead wood could possibly extend this a further 30 years. There has also been considerable research and activity in experimental planting 79 to guarantee the future of the industry.
Experiments have shown that it takes up to twenty years for planted native species to reach maturity, but the long maturation period carries a very high risk of failure through stock grazing, insect plagues, bad seasons etc. DEC has had some success working with the Indian/Timor species (Santalum album) in the Kimberley, as it is slightly more robust than Spicatum. There are currently 1200 acres in the Kimberley planted with Santalum album and the first harvest of 17 year old wood is expected to take place in 2015. 80 Unfortunately experimental work and planting (by DEC and the Universities) has so far concentrated on the Album variety rather than Spicatum, although eastern wheat belt farmers are now looking at planting the local variety for future income as well as a panacea for salinity.
In 1997 a new sandalwood oil producing venture opened its doors in Albany – The Australian Sandalwood Oil Co Pty Ltd (known as Mt Romance). It had negotiated a long-term supply contract with the WA government for 1000 tons of wood at a set price at a time when the government (and the industry) was feeling the pinch of the Asian crisis, which had resulted in a fall in demand for sandalwood. Previous exports to Europe had not really been successful as the renowned French perfume industry looked to India for supplies of oil. In 2002 however, contracts and joint development projects were initiated by Mt Romance to drive the first ‘mainstream’ volumes of Australian sandalwood oil into the French perfume industry.
Meanwhile world markets for sandalwood are growing faster than ever before. Over the last 10 years sandalwood prices have sky-rocketed by up to 2000% and are still climbing, as shown by figures cited previously. Demand for sandalwood incense particularly shows no sign of diminishing with expanding Asian populations and the western use of the powdered wood for mosquito coils, potpourri, aromatherapy, etc. So, if carefully managed, this WA industry should continue to provide a small but significant contribution to export earnings for many years to come.
Fremantle Studies Day, October 2006
1 Details of joss stick manufacture are given in Forests and Forest Products and Industries of W.A., 1921.
2 RJ Donovan, ‘A History of Sandalwood cutting in Western Australia’, Paper held by Battye Library, p 2; J Underwood, A History of the Sandalwood Industry of W.A., 1954, p 21, Forests Department File 741 2 (02)
3 Forest Focus, n30, 1983, p 25; Actg Governor Irwin & Earl Grey, British Parliamentary Papers Colonies General, v4, p 356; JR Robertson, The Government Regulation of the Sandalwood Industry of W.A.: A Brief History, 1958, p 4, Forests Department File 779/41.
4 Forest Focus, n30, 1983.
5 North Queensland Register, 22/9/1979.
6 B Sansom, The Camp at Wallaby Cross, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, 1980, pp 199- 202.
7 Sansom, The Camp at Wallaby Cross, 1980.
8 JH Maiden, The Useful Native Plants of Australia, Sydney, 1889, pp 547 & 597; E Swain, Timbers and Forest Products of Queensland, Queensland Provisional Forestry Board, c1928, p 305.
9 P Statham, ‘Swan River Colony 1829-50, CT Stannage, A New History of Western Australia, UWA Press, 1979, p 203.
10 Perth Gazette, 25/1/1845; Inquirer, 5/2/1845.
11 ibid; Inquirer, 9/7/1845; Government Gazette, 9/12/1848; CSO, Correspondence received supplement 313, 1848.
12 PC Richmond, The Sandalwood Industry, Information Sheet 26, Forests Department, June 1983.
13 W & M de Burgh, The Breakaways, St Georges Books, Perth, 1981, p 117; Irwin to Grey, August 1847, CSO 18 v49, p 50; R Erickson, Old Toodyay and Newcastle, Toodyay Shire Council, 1974, pp 69 – 73.
14 Perth Gazette, 11/9/1847 & 27/5/1848; Government Gazette, 1/10/1847 & 22/10/1847; Underwood, A History of the Sandalwood Industry of W.A., 1954, pp 9-10.
15 WA Blue Books, 1844-1850. It should be noted that the sandalwood export figures entered for one year tended to represent cutting activity in the previous year due to the delays in inland and overseas transport. Given this, the feverish activity referred to in 1847 can be seen in the peak £13353 earned for the export of 1335 tons in 1848.
16 Inquirer, 5/4/1848.
17 P Cowan (ed), A Faithful Picture: The Letters of Eliza and Thomas Brown at York in the Swan River Colony 1841-1852, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1977, p 71.
18 G Lefroy, Diary, 30/7/1848, WAA 648A; D Shineberg, They came for sandalwood: a study of the sandalwoodtrade in the south-west Pacific, 1830-1865, Melbourne University Press, 1967, p 80.
19 CSO, Correspondence received supplement 313, 1848; Government Gazette, 9/12/1848; Underwood, A History of the Sandalwood Industry of W.A., 1954, p 9. At £8/10/0/ton on overseas markets further exploitation was unprofitable.
20 P Statham, ‘Why Convicts I’, Studies in WA. History, vIV, Dec 1981 pp 1-2.
21 P Statham, ‘Why Convicts II’, Studies in WA History, vIV, Dec 1981, pp 15-16.
22 Underwood, A History of the Sandalwood Industry of W.A., 1954, p 13; HGJ Ware, ‘The Sandalwood Industry of Western Australia’, Typescript in Battye Library, 1975, p 4.
23 H Colbatch, Story of 100 Years, Government Printer, Perth, 1929, p 177.
24 Forest Focus, n30, 1983, pp 25-26.
25 Colbatch, Story of 100 Years, p 193.
26 J S Battye, Western Australia: A History from its Discovery to the Inauguration of the Commonwealth, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1924, Appendix 4. In 1890 the population was 46290 people and this rose to 101143 people by 1895.
27 Forest Focus, n30, 1983, p 27.
28 Battye, Western Australia: A History, Appendix 4.
29 Robertson, The Government Regulation of the Sandalwood Industry, 1958, p 8.
30 Annual Report of Department of Woods and Forests, 1897.
31 Annual Report of Department of Woods and Forests, 1909 p 15; Government Gazette, 27/11/1908.
32 Donovan, ‘A History of Sandalwood cutting in Western Australian’, p 7; Underwood, A History of the Sandalwood Industry of W.A., 1954, p 21.
33 Underwood, A History of the Sandalwood Industry of W.A., 1954, p 22.
34 A Schorer, The Horses Came First, Wandering Shire Council, 1974, p 25; Lane Poole’s report to the Forests Department, 1923.
35 Robertson, The Government Regulation of the Sandalwood Industry, 1958, p 16.
36 Annual Report of Forests Department, 1920-21.
37 The West Australian, 11/2/1920 & 13/2/1920; also Kalgoorlie Miner, 11/2/1920.
38 Forests Department File 290/20, Passed 5/3/1920.
39 Donovan, ‘A History of Sandalwood cutting in Western Australian’, p 4; also Forest Focus, n30, 1983, p 30 which includes a photograph of the stockpiled wood at Fremantle in 1921.
40 Government Gazette, 30/10/1923; Underwood, A History of the Sandalwood Industry of W.A., 1954, p 22; Annual Report of Forests Department, 1924.
41 Annual Report of Forests Department, 1930, p 6.
42 Donovan, ‘A History of Sandalwood cutting in Western Australian’, p 8; Robertson, The Government Regulation of the Sandalwood Industry, 1958, pp 21-22.
43 Annual Report of Forests Department, 1924, p 19, Annual Report of Forests Department, 1925, p 13.
44 Annual Report of Forests Department, 1926, p 13.
45 Hansard, PD (WA) v80, p 1332.
46 Although some Spicatum grew in the west, most of South Australia’s sandalwood was Persicarium, which is
not a ‘true’ sandalwood variety. Maiden, The Useful Native Plants of Australia, Sydney, 1889, p 547.
47 Robertson, The Government Regulation of the Sandalwood Industry, 1958, p 24.
48 Annual Report of Forests Department, 1927, p 12.
49 Annual Report of Forests Department, 1928, p 12.
50 The West Australian, 19/2/1928.
51 Hansard, PD (WA) v83, p 1425.
52 Robertson, The Government Regulation of the Sandalwood Industry, 1958, p 27.
53 The West Australian, 3/4/1930.
54 P Richmond, Report to the Lands and Forests Commission, 1985, p 1, Forests Department File 630/84. In effect this meant that the loose association already formed among the Sandalwood Merchants would become a separate entity; the four companies concerned all being to that time general importers and exporters.
55 Annual Report of Forests Department, 1930, p 6.
58 North Queensland Register, 6/5/1983; also Introduction to the 1982 Repeal Act.
59 Annual Report of Forests Department, 1933, p 10.
60 Robertson, The Government Regulation of the Sandalwood Industry, 1958, p 31.
61 Annual Report of Forests Department, 1933, p 10. 218 orders were issued for 1420 tons of new wood for
export (the highest for four years) and a further 13 orders for 125 tons of wood for oil distillation.
62 Robertson, The Government Regulation of the Sandalwood Industry, 1958, pp 18-20; Annual Report of Forests Department, 1922-3.
63 Robertson, The Government Regulation of the Sandalwood Industry, 1958, p 38; Forests Department File 779/49.
64 Annual Report of Forests Department, 1943
65 Annual Report of Forests Department, 1946-7 & 1947-8.
66 Oral evidence from Gerald Hughes, Chairman of Directors, WA Sandalwood Co. Revenue is buried under ‘Miscellaneous’ in Forests Department Annual Reports.
67 From 1937 to 1941 the Forests Department received from £2/16/0 - £7/11/0 a ton in royalty payments from the distillers and £8-9/ton from 1942–1946. Even the increase in royalties to £19/ton for wood used to produce domestic oil and £41/ton for wood for overseas oil between 1946 and 1949 was far below the revenue that could have been obtained if that wood had been exported. Robertson, The Government Regulation of the Sandalwood Industry, 1958, p 38.
68 Annual Report of Forests Department, 1951-52, p 8.
69 Donovan, ‘A History of Sandalwood cutting in Western Australian’, p 8.
71 Ware, ‘The Sandalwood Industry of Western Australia’, 1975, pp 6-7; Forest Focus, n30, 1983, p 25.
72 Annual Report of Forests Department, 1955-56, p 12.
74 Oral evidence from Gerald Hughes, Chairman of Directors, WA Sandalwood Co.
75 Plaimar’s major profit came from the manufacture of soft drinks and up to this date the company had been exempt from sales tax because they complied with the 20% apple juice requirement that had been imposed to assist the apple industry. When this exemption was removed, the company closed its WA operations. Oral evidence from Gerald Hughes, Chairman of Directors, WA Sandalwood Co.
76 Richmond, Report to the Lands and Forests Commission, 1985, p 1.
77 Richmond, Report to the Lands and Forests Commission, 1985, p 2.
78 Commercially viable wood is based on current prices, markets, transport costs and pulling methods. These conservative estimates are based on 36325 tons of commercially available wood, but the supply may vary depending on conditions. Richmond, Report to the Lands and Forests Commission, 1985, p 4.
79 Richmond, The Sandalwood Industry, Information Sheet 26, 1983, p 2.
80 Lonsec Agribusiness Annual Report 2006, ITC Sandalwood Project, p 8.
Garry Gillard | New: 3 November, 2017 | Now: 3 November, 2017