The Australian Essential Oil Industry History & Emerging Trends
Australia – Unique flora

Australia has a unique flora largely of Gondwanan origin with later influence from the Indian subcontinent and SE Asia.

Dominant plant families include oil bearing genus: 
  • Myrtaceae – Eucalyptus, Melaleuca, Leptospermum
  • Rutaceae – Boronia, Citrus
  • Santalaceae – Sandalwood
  • Myoporaceae – Eremophila sp.
  • Cupressaceae– Cypress pines
Around Australia

  • Hummock grasslands (WA, SA, NT) 23%
  • Eucalypt woodlands (QLD, NSW) 39%
  • Acacia Woodlands WA, QLD, NSW 10-20%
  • Acacia shrublands WA
  • Tussock grasslands  – arid and temperate areas
  • Chenopod/samphire shrubs and forblands – near-estuarine, arid and semi-arid areas. eg. Saltbush SA, WA
Australian Vegetation

  • Tropical or temperate rainforest
  • Tall or open eucalypt forests
  • Callitris and Casuarina forests

Restricted to areas of less than 70,000 square kilometres

Early Researchers

  • Baker & Smith 1896 -1920
  • Penfold & Smith 1920’s
  • Penfold & Morrison 1930’s – 1940’s

R.T (Richard Thomas) Baker​

(1854 -1941)

  • Economic Botanist & Lecturer in Forestry > 100 papers
  • A Research on the Eucalypts, especially in regard to their Essential Oils (1902), with H. G. Smith
  • A Research on the Pines of Australia (1910), with H. G. Smith

Henry George Smith ​

(1852 - 1924)

  • 1896 – commenced a long collaboration with R. T. Baker
  • Investigating essential oils in eucalypts, with Baker working on the botanical side and Smith on the chemical side
  • A Research on the Eucalypts, especially in regard to their Essential Oils (first published 1902, revised 1920)
  • Smith was the author of more than 100 papers(  J. Roy. Soc. N.S. W and  J. Proc. Aust. Chem. Inst.)
  • His work on the essential oils of the Australian flora achieved worldwide reputation
  • He is honoured in the name Eucalyptus smithii R. T. Bak. (1899)

Arthur de Ramon Penfold ​


  • Chemist and museum director, was born on 1890 in Sydney, Died 1980
  • He worked initially with H. G. Smith and achieved world recognition largely in the field of the volatile or the ‘essential’ oils of the Australian flora
  • He published some hundred original research papers, many in collaboration with F. R. Morrison, in Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales
  • A.R Penfold & J. L. Willis ”The Eucalypts: Botany, Chemistry, Cultivation and Utilization” (1961)
  • 1927 Curator of the Sydney Technological Museum
  • 1948 Director of the Sydney Technological Museum
  • Hypothesised that diversity was the norm in Australian essential oil chemotypes rather than consistency
Recent researchers

Dr. Erich V. Lassak​

(1934 - 2015)

  • 1964 – Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney.
    PhD – UNSW – 1972
  • 1979 – Senior Research Scientist – N.S.W Department of Agriculture.
  • Approximately 50 papers on essential oils.
  • Lassak, E.V. & McCarthy, T. (1983), Australian Medicinal Plants, Methuen, Australia (illustrated by Betty Hinton)

    President of the Australian Society of Perfumers and Flavourists
  • Chairman of the Essential Oil Committee of the Standards Association of Australia

Assoc. Professor Emilio Ghisalberti

(1943 – 2015)

  • Migrated to Australia from Italy in 1954.
  • Natural Products Chemist – isolation and structural elucidation of natural products from Western Australian plants.
  • Comprehensive reviews of genus Eremophila and Boronia
  • Lecturer at University of Western Australia 1970 – 2012
  • > 100 scientific publications

Joseph John (JJ) Brophy

  • Honorary Visiting Fellow, UNSW
  • Prolific author on Australian essential oils from 1969 – present >100 papers.
  • Brophy collection – ~5000 essential oil specimens
  • Essential oils chemistry, particularly of the Australian Myrtaceae and Rutaceae

Professor Ian Southwell 

  • Principal Research Scientist- NSW Department of Agriculture 1983 – 2005
  • Secretary Essential Oil Producers Association of Australia- 2005 – 2015
  • Adjunct Professor – Southern Cross University– 2015 – Present
  • Chairman of the Essential Oil Committee of the Standards Association of Australia
  • > 50 papers on Australian essential oils
  • Seminal work on Tea Tree oil and Lemon myrtle

Australian Native Oils - Emerging Trends

A number of Australian native oils which were commercialised in the early 20th century later waned in popularity and thus production, including Tea Tree Oil, Lemon Myrtle and West Australian Sandalwood.

Interest in these oils and others gathered momentum in the 1970-1980’s with an increase in consumer demand for natural alternatives for antiseptic, insect repellence and fragrance and flavours.

Melaleuca alternifolia
Tea Tree Oil


Backhousia citriodora
Lemon Myrtle

Eucalyptus Australias


Santalum spicatum
Western Australian Sandalwood


Australian Native Oils – Potential for growth

Boronia megastigma
Boronia absolute

Leptospermum petersonii
Lemon Scented Tea Tree Oil


Melaleuca quinquenervia
Broad Leaved Paperbark

Melaleuca ericifolia
Rosalina (Swamp paperbark)


Callitris intratropica
Blue Cypress

Taxandria (syn. Agonis) fragrans


Eremophila mitchellii
False Sandalwood


Kunzea ambigua
Tick bush


Australian Native Oils – Unique or “Boutique”

There are also a range of unique oils produced by Australian plants which are either limited in finite production such as:

Or are relatively under explored:

Dysoxylum fraserianum
Australian Rosewood

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