everyone I meet or who purchases my products from me, asks the same questions. How did you get started and what gave you
the idea to extract oil from kanuka and manuka? (New Zealand Tea Tree).
Where do I begin? Probably the Stellins arrival on Great
Barrier Island. This took place in 1957 with my fathers quest for
an island paradise, isolation and to escape the family business that his uncle was
expecting him to take over. Then we have to go back a bit further in time.
Both brothers served in the Great
War, John with a British Regiment on the Western Front where he was badly gassed and like
thousands of other soldiers he never really recovered.
James served with a New Zealand Regiment, first on Gallipoli and then on the
Western Front. He was fortunate to only
receive minor wounds.
My father, Dion Stellin left for
Britain in 1938 with the knowledge that war was about to come to Europe once again. During the war he served in many different parts
of the armed forces. By the end of the war he
was a Major in the S.A.S, Military Cross Bar and mentioned in dispatches. Most of his war service was spent in the Middle
East and Mediterranean, notably in the islands of the Aegean where he fell in love with
the people, the food, the wine, the music, the dancing and the women.
A second accolade was given to
them by the German occupation forces who put a price upon their heads, dead or alive. Both men thought this was a real laugh. Misfortune struck when Anders was killed two weeks
before the end of the war. He was
posthumously awarded the V.C. but my father
never really got over his death.
My father was also involved in
Palestine leading up to the birth of the new Jewish State.
In 1944 a major tragedy occurred for the Stellin family
with the death of Flying Officer James Kingston Stellin, only son of James Stellin. He was killed in action while flying a fighter
over France. The people of the small French
village of Saint Maclou-la-Briere buried him with great honour and he was posthumously
awarded the Croix de Guerre and Palme by the people of France.
After leaving the forces my
father spend a couple of years travelling around Europe, the Mediterranean, North America
and Canada. He returned to New Zealand to
sort out some family business with no intention of staying but he met and fell in love
with my mother about the same time things were beginning to happen in South East Asia. It was a choice for my father between Korea or
Malaysia. After consulting the world atlas he
decided the tropics would be a much nicer place than a cold mountainous country. He spent two years in Malaya fighting with the
Fijian battalion during which time he was badly wounded.
He fell in love with the islands, the people and their way of life. The Fijian soldiers held him in very high regard,
as one of their own.
On returning to New Zealand he
married my mother and spent the next couple of years working for his Uncle James. James had great expectations that my father would
take the family business over, him being the last of the Stellins. However, by this time my father had become totally
disillusioned with the whole system in general and was looking for a retreat to escape to. He found Great Barrier Island and fell in love as
soon as he set eyes on the island. It
reminded him so much of the Aegean Islands and the Fijian Islands combined in one. The little rocky islands off the west coast and
the mountainous subtropical interior.
He went straight into a
partnership and bought Okiwi Station, 12,000 acres. Then
he brought the family up to the island, my mother, two sisters and myself. I had just turned one when we arrived in 1957.
This move was a substantial cultural shock for my mother who had been brought up in
high society, big houses, servants including maids, cooks, gardeners, chauffeurs etc. She was dumped on an isolated island and
confronted with an old smoky wood stove and an old farmhouse that leaked when it rained. She cried for two weeks. James Stellin my mothers father was heart
broken. Not only had my father walked away
from the family business and a fortune but worst of all he had taken his beloved daughter
and me, his only true grandson, to, in his eyes, the end of the earth. James Stellin never forgave my father for this act
Our time at Okiwi Station was
very frustrating and depressing for my mother and father.
The partner turned out to be a violent alcoholic and the partnership
collapsed costing my father all his money. The
major event for me during that time was when I was nearly eaten by the partners pet pig, a
big, old fat sow. She was shot soon after.
From Okiwi we moved over the hill
and down the Port FitzRoy Harbour to the land we are living on now. James Stellin bought this land for us even though
he hated us living on the island. The farm
was purchased from Peter Flinn whose family had owned it for nearly 100 years. In contrast to my father Peter had had enough of
the Barrier and the hard farming life and now just wanted the easy life of the city. He was 36 when he left.
This property was a true paradise
for my father. Just about surrounded by
water, lots of small islands off the western side, 2000 acres, 27 miles of coastline. It had been named Sunnyside and Flinns Arm
but we call the peninsular Stellin Mark. This
property is isolation within isolation. No
road access, no phone until 1996 and the only way out by boat. Going to school was an adventure and still is for
children living at Wairahi Valley. It begins
with a three mile boat trip up the FitzRoy Harbour in a small open boat, then a 3 mile
trip by road down into Okiwi basin. Many
school days were missed during the winter months.
We were confronted on a daily
basis with what would be considered nowadays amazing
natural events. To us, as children, they were
just part of everyday life. We watched pods
of killer whales (orca) herding and feeding upon little blue penguins. We watched these orca cruising alongside our boat, surrounded by thousands of sea birds. We watched these birds drop like snowflakes into
the water as they fed on the remains of small fish that had been eaten by big fish. The marine life in those days was outstanding. When we werent at school, and that was
often, we would either be bareback horse riding, fishing or just being adventurous kids.
Again, luck was against my
father. The first catastrophe was the old
Flinn homestead burning down. We lost just
about everything. We moved into a one room
shack believing that we would soon build a new house with the insurance money. However, not
only did James Stellin hold the deeds to the farm he also held the insurance policy which
he would not release. We all lived in the
shack for a number of the years. The next
catastrophe happened when my father was mustering sheep and he was thrown from his horse,
landing on rocks. He fractured his back and
broke one of his arms. Consequently he was in
plaster for 6 months during which time my mother did the hard, heavy work, cutting and
splitting firewood, digging the gardens and taking the children to school. We did what we could to help.
Once my father was fit enough to
sit a horse he started to check on the stock to ready them for mustering and shearing. It took him only two days to realize that we had
lost nearly all our sheep, over 2000 head. My
father knew who had stolen them but he could never prove it. This last catastrophe financially crippled
us, destroyed my fathers dreams and left him an empty man.
Times had been hard before but
now my father was asking the impossible. No stock, no income. By the time my mother made the decision to leave
and take me to Auckland my two sisters were already at boarding school. I was also sent off to boarding school. Our school fees were paid for by James Stellin,
along with the house that we moved into. A
hollow victory for James. My father stayed on
the farm, coming to Auckland every now and again.
I was 17 when I finally came back
to the farm, ready to help my father revive his dream but sadly I only had two years with
him. He passed away in 1975 from cancer. He had just turned 60 and I was 19.
Upon turning twenty one I
received a good legacy from my grandfather, James Stellin.
Overnight I went from being a very poor, ignorant farm boy who could not
even afford a plane trip to Auckland to being a very wealthy, ignorant farm boy. It wasnt long before I had squandered my
legacy on women, drugs and alcohol. A small
amount went into the farm. By now my mother
had moved back to run the house, generally to
keep an eye on me while I worked on the farm.
A couple of years later my grandfathers trust was wound up. Money that had been locked up for many years was finally divided amongst the family members. This money gave my mother and I the ability to start redeveloping the farm and we did this for the next 15 years. These were great years with lots of excitement and fulfillment. We put in roads to just about every part of the farm, turned scrub into pasture and tamed dangerous wild cattle. The sheep and cattle changed from wild, shy animals that would run for miles or attack to kill, to become animals that would stand waiting at the gates, ready to be moved into the next paddock. We had a great feeling of satisfaction and achievement.
Crushing scrub kanuka and manuka
was normally done in late spring or early summer which gave it time to dry out through
summer. In autumn we would burn it, harrow
the ashes and then spread grass seed and fertilizer.
Within a couple of months there would be new pasture which would then be
fenced off. During the crushing the
aroma coming off the scrub was quite overpowering, imagine a 20 ton bulldozer smashing and
squeezing, the air filled with a mixture of kanuka and manuka. After a days crushing clothes would reek and even
the bulldozers smell of diesel and oil would be overpowered by the aroma of crushed scrub.
On many occasions my friend
Laurie Turner and I would discuss ways of extracting the aroma and what might be done with
it. There was always the thought in the back
of my mind that it could be extracted and used.
In 1985 two things happened that
spurred my interest in extracting oil from kanuka and manuka. Both things coincided. One was an article in a magazine and the other was
an accident that involved a local boy. A wood
splinter had penetrated the boys eyeball and it was a couple of days before he
received medical help. The local doctor
removed the splinter and found there was no infection in the eye and it consequently
healed very quickly. When asked why the eye
had not become infected the doctor said it was because it was a tea tree splinter and tea
tree has known antibacterial properties. I
wondered if he was talking about Australian tea tree, melaleuca or did he think that the
New Zealand tea tree and the Australian tea tree were one and the same, as their name tea
Coincidentally the article I had
been reading in an Australian magazine at the time of this accident was about their tea
tree oil, melaleuca, and about the bush stills. They
use these stills to extract the oil from natural stands of melaleuca on a yearly basis. The article also talked about how they were
planting out many hundreds of acres in rows of tea tree so that it could be harvested by
mechanical means. This sped up production to
cope with the ever increasing demand for the oil in Australia and for the overseas market. The article also detailed how to use the oil and
its natural antibacterial and antifungal properties.
With the basic knowledge gained
from the article, on how stills work, I made
a very small one. The pot was an old steel
can with a bolted lid. The condenser was made
of steel and aluminium piping and the oil separator was a brandy bottle with holes drilled
in it to let water in and out. The kanuka
leaf material sat just above the water which was then heated from the wood.
The first few extractions were a
real eye opener. I had expected our oil would
be the same colour as the Australian oil, a clear yellowish colour. When reddish, golden, yellow droplets floated to
the surface in the separator I first thought it was scum or grease residue. However, I learnt that this is the colour of our
kanuka oil when it comes into contact with iron or steel and a chemical reaction takes
place. When a stainless steel vessel is used
the colour is light yellow to a golden yellow. Manuka
varies from light green to dark green.
Only a small amount of oil could
be extracted with this small still, just 5 to 6 mls a day.
I used this unit for a number of years, extracting just enough oil for my
own use and for friends.
There was no real information
available on New Zealand kanuka or manuka oils at this time and I knew of no-one who was
extracting it on a commercial basis. Because
of this lack of information my mother and I, along with our friends, became guinea pigs in
determining what to use the oils for and how to accomplish the required results. We recognized that the most widely used oil was kanuka and that is what I extract now.