We have become accustomed to the occasional stoushes between Australia and Europe over the right to call various products by particular names. We must call champagne sparkling wine because a champagne must come from the Champagne district.  And so on.

 There is an interesting tussle emerging between Australian and New Zealand producers of manuka honey.  The NZ producers claim that only they have the right to call the product manuka. The Australians are saying that manuka is a generic term and that they are equally entitled to call their product by that name.

 The leptospermum is an interesting genus with many species, the greatest number of which grow in Australia. This is the plant that people in NSW refer to as tea-tree, later respelled for obscure reasons as ti-tree. The name tea tree was given by Cook to a bush which provided leaves that could be used as a tea substitute, although the tea it made was rather strong. It can refer to various species of Melaleuca and Leptospermum.

 No one disputes that manuka is a word of Maori origin and that the New Zealanders were the first to apply it to a couple of varieties of Leptospermum that grow in New Zealand, and then to the honey produced by bees accessing nectar from those trees.

 However, the word was then adopted by people in Tasmania and Gippsland to refer to their species of Leptospermum.  It has travelled from New Zealand English at least into regional Australian English.  

 It turns up in an article published in the Hobart Mercury in 1947 discussing the tea-tree scrub.

‘This tea-tree was known locally as ‘manuka’, which is, of course, a well-founded New Zealand name, though used somewhat extensively in Tasmania for the same kind of plant.’

 Another published in 1944 described ground parrots near Queenstown.
‘In the open grass paddocks fenced with post and rail, these parrots rarely perch above the third rail, but, where there are no fences, I have seen them on the top of thick manuka trees, 10 or 12 ft from the ground’.

There is also an instance of use from the Gippsland Times in1946.
‘Not all the wild honey tickles the palate, that gathered from the now all-too-plentiful Manuka titree, although the bees do not appear to mind it, is very unsavoury stuff on the table.’

 Where this leaves the claims of the New Zealand honey producers I do not know.



Sue ButlerComment