The macadamia is nature’s gift to Australia, which became Australia’s gift to the world.

Each year for the past five years, Quench has banded together to exhibit our designs here and overseas. Traditionally we have shown work created under our own brands but this year we took a different approach by choosing a standard material and theme.

The theme is ‘Table Stories’, exploring ideas for objects associated with eating. The material we chose was rubbish… Well to put it another way, it’s a material considered a waste by-product of the macadamia nut industry. It is not a recognised economic resource by either the macadamia farmers or the timber industry.

But the macadamia is a truly unique species. Before 1857 it grew no where else on the planet except here in southeast Queensland and northern New South Wales. It is Australia’s most successful native food export, recently celebrating its 40th year, and has consistently been worth around $200 million per year in Australia. Up until now the industry has revolved around harvesting the nut and the various food and skincare products that are made with it, and there is clearly a future for even more clever value-adding initiatives.

So back to the exhibits and the fact they are made from… rubbish. The point is if there is ever a case for design-led thinking this is a good one. We have a unique resource and we have an industry under increasing global competition pressure looking to value-add in any way possible. Quench took on the challenge to research and use design-led thinking to see if there is a way to value-add to the decommissioned macadamia trees. To give you an idea, this one farm in Bundaberg is taking out 10,000 trees in the current financial year, to decrease stock and allow remaining trees to have a higher yield.  This appears to be common practice in the industry now that it has matured, but many of these trees will be mulched or piled up and burnt.

Our objective was to start at the beginning of the supply chain with the raw logs from the field which are then sent to the mill for sawing and stored for seasoning. From that point we have the wood dressed ready for manufacturing. In doing so we can gather information that can be used in the commercialisation of the timber. What we found was a beautiful and unique hardwood with unique figure and stability once cured – a truly interesting and entirely Australian resource. One of the first things you will notice about the wood is the medullery rays are similar to what you find in silky oak, this is a characteristic of the grevillia. Another feature is the wiggly grain that occurs to accommodate the medullary rays.

In the manufacture of our ‘Table Stories’ designs we each deliberately took our own approach in making.  Alex, Jason and Bjorn used CNC; David’s was hand carved; Surya’s and my design were turned on a lathe. Bjorn, Alex and I experimented with the look by using raw macadamia nut kernel and natural coconut fibre to finish the wood, Jason used wax, Surya and David used lacquer.

Granted these are small items and macadamia timber will never be harvested to build houses or furniture because of its size and availability, but there is no reason that it can’t be a boutique timber used for high-value smaller items. And for a resource that doesn’t exist, yet has a name that is instantly recognised all over the world, there is potential for it to take pride of place in Australian design.

When you look at Quench designs, see if you can imagine macadamia wood as Australian jewellery sitting proudly at the Museum for Art and Design in New York; or as a handle on a silver teapot at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London; or as a button on a Driza-Bone in Shanghai; or as limited edition sunglasses in Berlin. If in the future you do see this, be sure to cast a thought back to this exhibition by Quench in a back room of a small but dedicated arts organisation by a group, that against popular thought, did something small that had never been done before and led the way from sunny Brisbane… by making beautiful objects out of rubbish.

Posted by