On The Land

1 February, 2024

Nature’s extraordinary elixir

WITH Australia Day having just been held, it is fitting to acknowledge Australia’s own unique natural medicine, tea tree oil, which is being grown and produced here on the Atherton Tablelands.

By Brigitte Daley

(from left) Ante and Michelle Milicevic with children Domenik, Martan and Josef in Jozo and Jelena's tea tree plantation.
(from left) Ante and Michelle Milicevic with children Domenik, Martan and Josef in Jozo and Jelena's tea tree plantation.

Milinder Farming co-owner Michelle Milicevic said her parents-in-law Jozo and Jelena Milicevic started growing tea trees on their Dimbulah property in the 1990s when tobacco was being phased out and the industry was deregulated. 

The tea tree farming operation started with 1.5 hectares of tea trees, now they have 20 hectares, with an annual production ranges between 5000-7000L of tea tree oil per year.

“As tea trees (Melaleuca alternifolia) are native to Australia, no special requirements are needed to grow them,” Michelle said.

Tea trees being harvested.
Tea trees being harvested.
Tea tree oil products have a wide range of benefits.
Tea tree oil products have a wide range of benefits.

Harvesting occurs with the original trees being cut once a year. The first cut for harvesting can occur after the tea tree is 18 months old.  

A modified corn harvester cuts the whole tree down one row at a time. When full, the bin is taken back to a shed to be hooked up to a boiler to start the distilling process.

Seventy minutes later, the harvested tea tree material is distilled and the oil has been extracted.

“There is absolutely no waste when producing tea tree oil,” Michelle said.

“A by-product of the tea tree oil is the tea tree mulch. We also sell this and it is fantastic for your garden as it has been steam distilled and pathogens or weed seeds have been killed in the distilling process.

“It also looks great and smells good too.”

There are around 10 other tea tree growers in the region.

“It’s a great crop to grow as no labour is required but a lot of equipment is needed instead - a distillery, harvester, bins to attach to the distillery,” Michelle said.

With a lack of markets for the oil at present, Michelle feels that there is no potential for the tea tree industry to expand in the region at present.

“The biggest challenge which is being faced currently is finding a market for it,” she said.

“Adulterated oil is also a huge problem internationally.”

Manufacturers have become quite advanced in their adulteration techniques, creating something that looks exactly like tea tree oil, but doesn't have the wonderful properties that pure tea tree oil has.

The only real way to know that it is pure is if a Chiral Analysis is completed on the oil. Pure tea tree oil is basically a white, clear colour. Yellow oil is an indication that the oil is either adulterated or starting to break down (possible exposure to air for an extended time).

However, if tea tree oil is stored correctly (out of direct sunlight) it can last for several years. 

“Up until Covid, our tea tree oil was sold in Europe, but since Covid there have been many factors which have affected the co-operative which we normally sell through and they have been unable to sell our oil,” Michelle said.

“Some of these factors have included the distance it has to travel and the time it takes to get onto a ship, customers purchasing more oil than they need, the economic situation in general as well as a downturn in essential oil use.

“Hence, we have started bottling it ourselves.

“Since starting to bottle our oil around four months ago we have only sold it in Australia.

“I believe we need to do more marketing in general, both internationally and nationally, around the fantastic qualities of tea tree oil.

“I believe that by educating people on the benefits and uses of tea tree oil, it will boost the demand for it and this will help the current situation.

“With its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antiviral and mould killing properties, tea tree oil is a must-have in every household.”

Tea tree oil contains a number of compounds, including Terpinen-4-ol, which has been shown to kill certain bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Terpinen-4-ol also appears to increase the activity of white blood cells, which help to fight germs and other foreign invaders.

These germ-fighting properties make tea tree oil a valued natural remedy for treating bacterial and fungal skin conditions, preventing infection and promoting healing.

“It is such a versatile and inexpensive essential oil - when we sold it in Europe it was mainly used in cosmetics,” Michelle said.

“In our own brand, we have soaps, gift packs, an antiseptic roll-on and a company in Cairns makes an anti-mould cleaning spray and an anti-mould air cleaning gel.

“We are currently working on a deodorant and an insect repellent with a local formulator which we are very excited about.

“There is also work being done on a dandruff shampoo in the form of a soap bar and bath bombs.” 

Michelle is proud that all of the products are natural and environmentally friendly.

“It is vitally important to me that our products have minimal detrimental effect on our planet and our people,” she said.

“When creating new products, it is also at the top of my list to find local artisans whenever possible and to use materials for packaging that have minimal impact on the environment.

“We are also aware of regenerative agricultural practices and are always looking to implement new practices where possible." 

Tea tree oil products can be purchased from their website or in store from Winter and Mann, Yungaburra; The Humpy, Tolga; Steffies Fruit Stall, Lakeland; Mutchilba Cash Store and the Gallery of Beauty, Mareeba.

New wholesalers or bulk oil sales are very welcome. For further information, contact Michelle Milicevic 0400 180 992 or email 


Most Popular