Seven years ago, Ron and Mel Caccianiga decided to literally tree-change from cattle and mixed farming to take up macadamia growing. They now have two macadamia orchards in Northern NSW, one at Tregeagle on the Alstonville Plateau, and one at Dungarubba, near Broadwater, where a swathe of new orchards are being developed.
According to Mel, having two orchards in locations that require very different management strategies and that have very different issues has certainly kept them on their toes and meant that they have had to learn a lot about macadamias in a short time.
Fortunately, neither are newcomers to rural life, having come from a large cattle property near Gravesend in north-west New South Wales, which Ron owned. This background has given them a fresh perspective on the macadamia industry, especially as it compares to more traditional ones such as livestock production.
Their enthusiasm and passion for the macadamia industry is impossible to ignore. Mel says she loves everything about macadamia nuts, from the tree itself through to the taste of the nut and its unique Australian origin.
Ron and Mel are also involved with the Macadamia Conservation Trust and have established a Macadamia Conservation Trust Arboretum on their Tregeagle property.
“It’s funny how a single tree can change your life in the most incredible ways” says Mel. “We have a beautiful, old Macadamia Tetraphylla (bush nut) tree on our property (see photo above). The original type of macadamia from the Big Scrub Rainforest, back in Gondwana times. She sits on the highest part of the farm, gracing us with her incredibly sweet scented pink flowers each spring and delicious creamy nuts, each autumn. Learning about her has led us on the most incredible journey, new friendships, adventurous bush treks, and the establishment of a macadamia arboretum.”
You can learn more about conserving wild macadamias here.
Just a year after they had finished planting 10,000 macadamia trees on the Dungarubba farm, the floods of 2022 hit the hard-working couple. The farm was severely affected by flooding. When they managed to get to the farm after the flood waters receded what they discovered was a shock, with their young trees having been totally submerged under metres of water for close to a week.
Even though the trees were established on 40 cm high mounds and had good drainage, with the type of flood experienced on their farm, Ron said it made no difference.“One neighbour’s family had been in the 1954 flood,and he knows the historic levels,and this flood was way beyond them,” he said.
Both Mel and Ron get emotional when they talk about the effect the floods had on them personally. “While you think you are OK with it, it’s still hard to talk about,” said Mel. “We were all over this entire farm from day one, so it is so much a part of us, and to see that all wiped away has been really tough,” said Mel.
They were gifted manpower from Blaze Aid and close friends, all of whom helped with tree planting. According to Mel, the psychological support from this was immense. “Getting one row, then the next, then the next full planted, spurred us on and made the task ahead feel achievable,” she said.
On the road to recovery
The couple feel battle weary, but they know they will go on.“We have 165 trees left to go in the ground, but who’s counting?” laughed Mel.
“When we started replanting, we would see green along the rows again and that was all helpful,” said Ron.
Mel and Ron feel that the help they received from family, friends and volunteers, especially the group from Blaze-Aid, got them through.
“As far as the farm goes, we are really positive about the future,” said Ron.
Ron and Mel have developed a range of macadamia nuts products which are available online under the brand Gondwana Macadamias. The range, launched only in September 2023, showcases the incredible versatility of the macadamia.
The Gondwana product range uses macadamia nuts that are harvested, dehusked, stored and slow roasted on their farm. You can find out more at www.gondwanamacadamias.com.au