Monday, 4 June 2012

Australian Mulga Wood

Mulga wood has been used extensively for Australian souvenir and gift ware throughout the middle of the 20th century.  Its height of popularity probably began in the Interwar Years and continued through to the 1960s and 70s.  Mulga or true mulga is a shrub or small tree, native to arid outback areas of Australia.  Its scientific name is acacia aneura. The aboriginal people have long used mulga for digging sticks and woomeras due to its strength.  Following are just three examples of mulga wood ware.


The first two items are recent acquisitions from Collectorama at Nambour last weekend.  Both are desk accessories with perpetual calendars.  The first one also has two inkwells as well as pen rests.

Mulga wood desk set
Each ink well should have a bakelite liner however one is missing.  Don't know if they ever had lids.  Maybe someone knows if these originally came with lids and has a photo that shows this?  This set is in reasonably good condition for its age, just a few marks and one inkwell sitting a bit crooked.  Still looks pretty good though.  At least all the date cards are complete.  No specific souvenir markings on this piece (only the koala underneath).

Nice AUSTRALIA with koala transfer underneath


The smaller piece is actually a souvenir from Coffs Harbour.  "Greetings from Coffs Harbour" is engraved between the Kangaroo transfer and the perpetual calendar.

Mulga wood calendar
This piece is not in the best condition (part of the kangaroo transfer is missing) but might be a good one to have a go at restoring.  Unfortunately one date card is also missing.  Thankfully it is the 31 so at least 5 months will be complete.  It has a simple wire stand attached to the back for support.

"GENUINE AUSTRALIAN MULGA" on map of Australia transfer on back 


My last example of mulga wood is a pair of bookends.  These have great sentimental value to me as they were one of my Father's 21st birthday presents.  This would mean that they date from around 1948.

Dad's mulga wood bookends
These bookends are quite heavy as they are solid wood.  Just two simple but very effective shapes.  I have often used these bookends myself over the years.

No two bookends (or any pieces of mulga wood) are ever the same - always different grain
"THE DESERT MANNA TREE" on map of Australia with manna tree transfer  underneath each bookend
I have not been able to find out anything about the brand of these bookends.  Not even sure if it's "THE DESERT MANNA TREE" or "THE MANNA DESERT TREE" however I think the first sounds more likely.  Still a very interesting label.  There seems to be quite a number of different manufacturers of mulga wood items.  A South Australian company in the 1930s was even producing mulga wood items under the brand name "ABO BRAND".  Not politically correct these days.  It would make an interesting exercise to document and collect examples from each manufacturer.



Though not to everybody's taste, a collection of mulga wood can make an interesting display of Australiana.





14 comments:

  1. My father worked at the factory in Northcote Melbourne during the 60's & 70's where most of this Mulga wood giftware was made. He would bring a lot of work home, where myself, my brother & sister would help prepare many of the more popular items, in order to help meet demand. (of course we earn't good pocket money doing this!) Dad was skilled with the lathe & band-saw, where we would simply drill the holes for the "salt & pepper shakers or to fit the pen holders etc. once prepared we would also apply a shellac coating prior to the final factory finishing. desk sets,small boomerangs with pen holders, salt & pepper shakers & egg cups where the main items made of Australian Mulga Wood during my fathers time at the factory.

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    1. Thanks for your comments Don. It is fascinating to actually hear first hand from someone who has been involved in making these type of items. Can you remember what brand was placed on the pieces you and your Dad worked on?

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  2. All the markings (stickers) where done at the factory finishing stage along with the product numbers that appears underneath on the 60's & early 70's items. eg: 400 etc on the underneath of the pen & ink well stands. l use to visit Dad at the factory which was a short walk from my first job also in Northcote. Many times l would see people finishing, personalising and boxing product to be dispatched to the many gift shops around Australia. to this day l can spot the product l worked on, as l remember my mistake's which tend to stand out to me!
    Interestingly, when Dad retired during the mid to late 70's, l wasn't surprissed that the factory closed not long after, as his ability in shaping the raw product for others to finish just could not be replaced...

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  3. Hi

    WRT manufactures marks on Mulga I have been able to find more than 50 .can send photos if you likw

    P Swan

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  4. Alicia Raymond19 July 2014 at 21:17

    Upon moving recently, I came across a Wooden piece, however I'm not sure what it is exactly.
    It is marked Mulga wood- abo brand
    With a stamp RD no. 7356.

    Can you tell me what this is? Or do you have an email address so that I can send you a photo?

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  5. Hi, I have a smokers stand, made of Acacia Aneura, or mulga wood with the trademark "the desert manna tree" and the sticker as shown half way down your item. I am interested to find out any more about this company or the items... Thanks, Lois

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  9. There are different types and kinds of this important tool. Some cutters are manual type but are of different sizes. my response

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  10. The one ornament with scratched off Australian sticker is 'ABO BRAND' read about the controversial label here: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/1741065&ved=2ahUKEwiA6MqJuPLjAhUk7nMBHbhQD58QFjAAegQIBBAC&usg=AOvVaw0uVyI4aaUxDKZegWuAMAjd&cshid=1565238864149

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  12. So let me show you what is available to you at prices that are much more down to earth, as they say... patio wood wall

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  13. I just love this painting so much. I think you hired Professional Painters Covington, right? I also love their work so much. They are really professional.

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