History of Hazelnuts in Australia and the Hazelnut growers of Australia
Hazelnuts are not native to Australia, and commercial varieties in Australia are cultivars of the European hazelnut Corylus avellana. Hazelnuts were introduced into Australia over 150 years ago. The exact time of import is unknown but is highly likely that seedlings of hazelnut cultivars were introduced during the early days of white settlement. Nursery catalogues from 1840s show hazelnut planting material for sale in Tasmania and later in Victoria in the 1880s. These were most likely plants introduced from England. Records from the 19th century reveal that hazelnuts were grown around Bright and Wandiligong in Victoria and Hobart in Tasmania. In NSW, records show plantings at Glen Innes and Orange. Through the early part of the 20th century little development of orchards took place and at the end of the second worlkd war commercial hazelnut production in Australia was almost non-existent.
From the 1950s to 70s, the contribution of Imre Tokolyi to the development of current Australian varieties of hazelnuts is considered particularly important. Imre came to Australia from Hungary in 1956 and was convinced of the future of hazelnuts in Australia. He set up a small manufacturing enterprise baking continental-style biscuits using various types of nuts in Victoria. As part of this business, Imre germinated thousands of seedlings and selected for yield and suitability to local conditions. These mother plants provided material for several subsequent crossings. A suite of varieties were developed and propogated at the Tokolyi nursery at Hoodles Creek in Victoria. One of the main varieties grown in Australia today, Tokolyi/Brownfield Cosford (TBC) is a legacy of Imre Tokolyi.
During the mid 1970s, State departments of agriculture in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania began or reactivated trial plantings and research into the hazelnut crop. Varieties of hazelnuts were imported from overseas including Ennis and Barcelona. At the time the variety Wanliss Pride was popular and planted by many growers.
In 1988 the Australian Nut Industry Council was formed as a peak nut body and by 1990-1991 the Victorian Nut Growers Association and NSW Nut Growers had ceased to operate. Separate nut organisations had been formed by members including the Hazelnut Growers of Australia Ltd, later to be incorporated. Chestnuts and Walnuts also formed separate bodies at this time. The Australian Nut Industry Council now represents in addition to the three original groups, the almond, pistachio, pecan and macadamia grower organisations.
In 1995 a program of field research began with funding from the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. The key aims of this program were to determine the regional suitability of hazelnut production (ie. the places where hazelnuts could be successfully grown in Australia) and to select those varieties that were the most productive and suitable for development of an Australian industry.
The combination of confidence in productive capacity and availability of planting material from expanding nursery suppliers led to greater areas of hazelnuts being planted in the eastern States through the late 1990s and until today.
An extract from the Hazelnut grower’s handbook by Lester Snare, Ed. by Carol Bracken