The birth of the Bush Essences can be traced back to my early days growing up in Terrey Hills living next door to my grandmother. I had no idea I was going to become a fifth generation herbalist in those days. However I should have had an inkling because I always preferred spending time with my grandmother to going to school.
I would regularly be doubled up with agonising abdominal pains (or so I told my mother) whilst ‘pleading’ to go to school, knowing full well that my mother was very concerned and would take me down to my grandmother to be looked after for the day. When I could hear my mother’s car going back up the dirt road leaving my grandmother’s I would make a spectacular recovery and then happily spend the day with her helping her make mother tinctures and fluid extracts and going on bush walks where she would point out the healing qualities of the many plants we passed. When my mother came back from work to pick me up and asked how I’d been my grandmother would reply “Oh he got better as the day went on.” I think she was as happy to have my company as I was to have hers.
My grandmother and great grandmother were some of the first white people to research the medicinal properties of Australian plants. My great great grandmother (also a herbalist) came to Australia from Europe in the 1850s to work as a herbalist in the gold fields. Unfortunately my grandmother was a heavy smoker and her body was riddled with cancer even before I was born. But she kept it at bay with phytolacca and sorrel along with a number of native herbs.
When I was nine she went travelling to Europe and got separated from her luggage and her herbs. By the time my father was able to send replacements to her she was very ill and was flown home in a coma that she never came out of. So for the second time (the first being the decimation of the local aboriginal population through the white settler’s introduction of smallpox and influenza) all this knowledge was lost as my grandmother and great grandmother had very little information written down. My father was more familiar with North American and European herbs, not so much their research on native plants. I didn’t retain the knowledge of what each plant did that I learnt from my grandmother, rather just the understanding that in the bush were all these plants with very strong healing qualities.
Birth of the Bush Essences
When I was studying my naturopathy degree I was mainly interested in herbs and homoeopathy and I liked the concept of the English Flower Essences in that they were safe and anyone could use them so it surprised me that no one was doing any research or using Australian flowers. On graduation and starting my practice I used to run courses on the Bach Flower remedies and write articles about them as well as use them in my practice.
However I was often disappointed because I would have the right remedy but there didn’t seem to be much response from the patient and they couldn’t see that anything had improved. Then something happened that changed everything. A dear friend of mine, whom I shared a house with when I was studying, was diagnosed with bowel cancer. He was a very young, successful, vibrant charismatic person – the last person you would expect to get a serious illness at such a young age. He asked me to hold a healing circle for all our mutual friends the night before he was going to be operated on. I was only too happy to help. We sent energy, prayers and healing to him. Unfortunately when they operated they found the cancer had spread everywhere through his body and there was nothing they could do for him so I continued the healing circle on a weekly basis. Six months after his death, in the meditations during the healing circle, I started being given pictures of plants, told where to find them and what their healing qualities were. And if I didn’t know the flower there would be a little caption underneath with the botanical name printed to make it easy for me! For the next two years I was a driven man.
I was in the bush all the time researching and investigating this intuitive information that was coming through. By then my practice was well established and I was getting wonderful results with the Essences from my patients. I then started sharing the information and Essences with a number of naturopathic, acupuncture and medical colleagues to see if they could get similar results to mine. At the end of the two years I was satisfied that all the intuitive information about the Essences had been verified and I started writing articles about them. Back then I didn’t even have any proper labels for the Essences that I was giving to my patients and other practitioners and at the end of one of my articles I mentioned that the first twelve remedies were available for sale.
The First Stock Kit
Shortly after that my wife found a couple of cheques in my slippers under the bed and when she asked what they were for I said “Oh that’s money for a kit” to which she responded “What’s a kit?” I showed her twelve bottles with hand written labels in an old TDK cassette box – this was the very first kit of Australian Bush Flower Essences! Inspired by the great results I realised I had to do justice to the Essences and honour them by giving them a very beautiful label and packaging.
When there were thirty Essences I launched the very first proper stock kit along with the reference book. By then I had had a couple of articles published in Wellbeing magazine which greatly spread awareness about the Bush Essences and led to requests from Europe, North America and South America to purchase the remedies. At that point I felt that they worked so well for Australian people because the plants grew in Australia. So I was very excited to find that the results in other countries were equally as good as those received in Australia. And it made me aware that the planet is just a global village.
ABFE moves from Allambie to Dee Why
By then I was living in the suburb of Allambie at the bottom of the road leading to the Manly Dam National Park where so many of the Essences I worked with could be found growing. In those days I had a few people working fulltime in my house and helping me prepare the Essences. It was quite labour intensive as we had to put all the small 15ml bottles in the dishwasher to remove any stickiness on them so that the labels would adhere more effectively. And every time we received an order for the stock kit of thirty Essences we would ring a bell in celebration!
At that time my daughter Grace was born and it did get a little hectic what with balancing a clinic, family life and the expanding Bush Essences business all in the family home. Shortly before Grace’s birth the newsletter was also launched – four A4 pages in black and white. I then ran out of room at home and moved to a brand new medical centre that was focussing on holistic health at the invitation of Joachim Fluhrer, a German naturopath and doctor who had recently moved to Australia, whom I met whilst we both taught at a naturopathic college. It was around this time that I created my very first Combination which went on to become the Emergency Essence. Because of my homoeopathic background I had never mixed the remedies – giving them singly. However one of my patients came to my house pleading with me to help his wife who had been involved in a very bad car accident and was in intensive care and not expected to live. As he told me this situation my inner voice told me to mix a number of remedies together.
He returned a week later wanting more of the Essence saying the doctors had said it was a miracle and couldn’t understand that she had come out of a coma and that the brain damage suffered had not affected her at all. These same doctors who specialised in head injuries continued to work with the Emergency Essence when they transferred to Western Australia. I then created three other Combinations – Confid, Cognis and Dynamis. The laws at the time prohibited me calling Cognis ‘Superlearning’ as I wanted and we had to come up with names that hinted at what they did but didn’t mean anything. In those days regulation was via the NSW health department and I didn’t have a manufacturing license. One day two inspectors from the NSW health department came to my house where they thought that the Bush Essences were based. A quick call by my wife tipped me off that they were coming up to the medical centre and all the staff who were making the Combinations quickly attempted to hide all evidence of their manufacture. When the inspectors came in they asked me point blank if I was manufacturing Essences for retail sale. I went bright red and in a very high pitched squeaky voice said no. I don’t think they believed me but they were very kind and promptly left without further ado. Shortly after this the regulation was taken over by the federal government and we gained the correct compliance. By now we were once again becoming short of space as I was working fulltime as a naturopath, running a clinic and making the Essences (as well as teaching interstate) and made another move – this time to Dee Why. By now the stock kit was made up of forty-two remedies and Essences were now being made up from all parts of Australia. I had also been invited to attend the very first International Flower Essence conference** that was held in France in 1990. This led to more overseas distributors very keen to import the Bush Essences.
A move to Terrey Hills – the circle is complete
At this time the Essences were still being made by hand and some of the people employed to make the remedies such as Gai Hoole and Peta Jesse are still to this day working for ABFE in various capacities. Gai conducts consultations and Peta is the Sydney workshop coordinator.
After five years of continued growth in Dee Why we were again running out of room and this time I was looking to purchase premises. Our general manager at that time called me when I was teaching overseas to say that she had found the perfect spot except it was nearly double the price we had intended to pay. Fortunately I had just finished a week of workshops with Tony Robbins and was feeling very empowered and optimistic and instructed her to buy the building! And this is our present location at Terrey Hills.
I remember moving in and thinking “My goodness, we’ll never be able to use all of this two storey building” and in the early days we rented downstairs out to another company. We were expanding but still making the Essences by hand and at that point I knew we had to become more automated. However we had a lot of initial problems with the filling machines. Gai had a sense that the Essences weren’t happy with the automation so I organised for a meeting with some of the senior staff along with the most junior and we all went in to the bush to meditate and communicate with the devas, nature spirits and spiritual beings associated with the Bush Essences to see what we needed to do to make them happy with a move to the more automated way. We followed all the feedback we received in the meditation and never had any more problems with machinery. Today we have at least seven, sometime eight, people in production spread over two rooms making the remedies and for me this is the heart centre of the business.
I have always felt very blessed to have such wonderful people working for me helping to make the Essences. And for just on twenty years I was very fortunate to have Kyla Mawson in charge of production. Kyla, like myself, grew up in Terrey Hills and loves the bush and nature and fully understands the spiritual dimension of the work we do with the Essences and created and maintained the strongest of culture among the production staff who we affectionately call petals – although today we have a male Italian naturopath Marco working there too. Marco is only the third male (he is a stamen!) who has worked in production in Terrey Hills, though we did have a dear friend of mine, Tom Reeve, doing this work when we were at Dee Why and who is now successfully growing organic and bioorganic turmeric and garlic near Coffs Harbour, NSW. We have a video in this newsletter edition of an interview that I have conducted with Kyla talking about her work in production and the values that she has created and supported in running that department.
One of the other important aspects of our work is the quarterly ritual that we have every equinox and solstice where all the mother tinctures are bought together to be part of a ceremony of the Essences, being blessed and maintained in their highest healing potency. Half the Essences are stored offsite as a precaution against any damage through fire or flood etc at Bush Essences. The ritual is only open to staff and Bush Essence teachers. The energy was so strong having all the mother tinctures out in the one spot that when we first started doing them seven years ago people literally couldn’t get off the chairs at the end of the night after the meditation as they were so zonked out by the energy. The rituals are a wonderful evening used as an instrument by spirit to fully potentise these healing Essences.