Today’s Solutions: June 04, 2023

Steve Birkbeck develops sandalwood cosmetics with the help of Australia’s original people

Ode Editors | March 2006 issue
Steve Birkbeck was a college student majoring in philosophy and anthropology when a car accident in a borrowed vehicle forced him into a job tending bar at a desolate hotel on the edge of Australia’s Gibson Desert. He could hardly wait to save enough money to pay for the car and get back to business as usual.
It didn’t work that way. After his return to the city, several friends he’d made at the hotel tracked Birkbeck down. They wanted to know if he’d lend a hand marketing their emu oil, which Aboriginal people believe is medicinal. So together with his wife Karen, Birkbeck returned to western Australia.
Emus proved problematic, but Birkbeck persevered, founding what has become the country’s largest cosmetics company. Mount Romance specializes in care products made with sandalwood oil using traditional Aboriginal know-how. “So much has already been stolen from the Aboriginals,” Birkbeck says, “and yet we can use their knowledge in a fair way.”
The extract is taken from the trees under the supervision of the Aboriginals, who are responsible for the development of the products. They also teach the history of both emu and sandalwood oils in Australia, and guide groups of tourists interested in experiencing the calming powers of the oils first-hand in a tepee. In addition, five percent of Mount Romance’s sales go to projects that benefit the Aboriginal community via the Songman Circle of Wisdom Foundation, co-founded by Birkbeck and led by internationally renowned Aboriginal artist Richard Walley.
Therapeutic effects, particularly relaxation, have been attributed to sandalwood oil, used for bathing by the Egyptian pharaohs. The oil can also be used for skin care. It’s a basic ingredient used by many European, Arabic and Asian perfume producers (in the United States, Aveda and Estée Lauder buy their sandalwood from Mount Romance). And there’s a lively black market in Asia for illegally harvested sandalwood, another reason why Mount Romance is an important alternative.

Print this article
More of Today's Solutions

California to produce its own generic drugs to take down big pharma

Whereas one vial of insulin costs about $30 in Canada, that same vial can go for as much as $450 in the US. This ...

Read More

Europe’s first biorefinery uses algae to make jet biofuel

The global aviation industry is responsible for more than 2 percent of human-produced carbon dioxide emissions. To put a dent in that statistic, scientists ...

Read More

Adding less salt to your food can add years to your life

In some cultures, it is considered polite not to season your food at a restaurant or at a friend’s home. You eat it the ...

Read More

Patagonia’s billionaire founder gives company away to save the planet

Eco-conscious outdoor apparel brand Patagonia has a history of setting the bar high when it comes to environmentally-friendly practices and mindset. Now, the company’s ...

Read More