Australian aboriginal societies have for millennia been based on a migratory lifestyle, and at the time of the conquest in the 17th century about 250 languages were spoken among them. Many of these are under considerable threat or have already disappeared, and the cultures have been forced to change extremely rapidly. Until fairly recently many societies still had this migratory lifestyle, but increasingly the Australian Aborigines have settled especially in the central deserts and in the north of the continent. In the south of Australia much of the local indigenous knowledge has disappeared forever, but in the north communities are once again gaining autonomy through “native title” to their lands, and are eager to salvage what remains of their culture. Statistics show that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people are the most disadvantaged group in Australia, with high unemployment rates, poor housing conditions, low life expectancy, and high infant mortality and morbidity rates.
Surprisingly, few medicinal plants have been adopted by the white conquerors or have made their way to other continents. One of the most noteworthy exceptions is Eucalyptus globulus, which is now one of the most widely cultivated trees of the world.
Australian tea tree Melaleuca alternifolia / Myrtaceae
In Australia, Europe, and North America, tea tree oil (Melaleuca aetheroleum) from a tree native to subtropical coastal regions of New South Wales has become very popular in the last decades. Today it is obtained almost exclusively from cultivated material. The use of this species in biomedicine is based on the medical traditions of the Australian Aborigines and includes the treatment of infectious skin conditions (acne). It is also used in cosmetics.
Eucalyptus Eucalyptus globulus / Myrtaceae
Today, leaves from E. globulus (blue gum, fever tree) are used as a medicine and for the production of commercial oil of eucalyptus, which has 1, 8-cineole (= eucalyptol) as the main component (up to 85 percent in the case of E. globulus). However, several other species are used in the production of the essential oil, including E. smithii and E. polybractea. The oil and pure cineole have antiseptic effects and are mildly irritant to the mucosa and the skin. Inhalations to treat inflammatory infections of the upper respiratory tract (bronchitis) and creams/balsams to treat a variety of mild to moderate respiratory problems (including problems of the nose and throat) are the most common applications. Commercial material for the pharmaceutical industry is today produced in the Mediterranean (Spain, Morocco) and around the Black Sea (Ukraine).