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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Greber, Norman Rae (Norm) (1902–1993)

by Ian McConachie

This article was published online in 2017

Norman Rae Greber (1902–1993), nut grower, was born on 23 November 1902 at Rous, near Ballina, New South Wales, tenth of twelve surviving children of New South Wales-born parents Christian Greber, farmer, and his wife Mary Ellen, née Collins. Money was scarce and Norm’s schooling was limited, relegated to second place behind helping on the farm. Growing up close to one of the first small-scale macadamia orchards, he liked to savour the taste and texture of the local rough-shelled nuts (Macadamia tetraphylla, found in northern New South Wales). It was the start of a passion for the macadamia that would last all his long life.

At the age of fifteen, Greber left home and joined his brother Valentine, who was farming at Montville, Queensland. In 1919 they moved to Amamoor, near Gympie, in the Mary Valley. Some years later Norm bought forty acres (16 ha) of virgin scrub, cleared it by hand, and planted bananas and pineapples. Earlier, he had worked with timber getters, and in the rainforest had seen the wild Macadamia integrifolia native to Queensland. This species would become the foundation of the world macadamia export industry that began in Hawaii in the 1940s based on trees imported from Australia in the nineteenth century.

In the 1920s Greber set out to develop the industry in the macadamia’s country of origin. He searched for and selected thin-shelled nuts from trees bearing a good crop and planted five hundred seedlings on his farm, which he named Nutty Glen. By the end of the decade his orchard, large for its time, comprised a thousand trees. On 19 December 1932 at the Albert Street Methodist Church, Brisbane, he married Kathleen Houston, a waitress; they would be childless.

Greber assessed each tree and tried to graft the better-performing seedlings. Conventional grafting techniques had been ineffective but, through his skills and powers of observation, he finally became the first Australian to graft macadamias for commercial production. His ‘simple side graft’ ‘proved the most versatile’ (Greber 1962, 47). The superior varieties he developed included ‘Own Choice,’ ‘Greber Hybrid,’ ‘NRG4,’ and ‘NRG7.’

With no orchard machinery and only a horse to assist him in working the hilly country of Nutty Glen, Greber moved in 1951 to thirty-three acres (13.3 ha) of flatter land at Beerwah, about fifty miles (80.5 km) north of Brisbane, where he again grew fruit and nuts. He continued to experiment with all aspects of breeding productive Australian macadamia varieties, investigated methods of improving tree culture, and invented hand tools and basic mechanical equipment. The Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd entered the industry in 1963, bought most of his land, and engaged him for the next eleven years to train its staff in growing and grafting.

Acknowledged as a founder of the Australian macadamia industry, Greber was a guiding force and mentor to producers at home and abroad. He corresponded with a large circle of friends and expounded his vision in articles written for industry journals. Woe betide anyone who underrated the macadamia and the importance of its Australian heritage. When the Australian Macadamia Society (AMS) was formed in 1974, he became its first patron; later, the society made him a life member. In 1981 the California Macadamia Society accorded him honorary life membership.

In 1993 Greber was awarded the OAM. He was a quiet, humble man, who valued the independence and freedom of life on the land. Music was an enduring pleasure: when young, he had played the cornet at country dances; at Beerwah, he was a trumpeter in a brass band. Predeceased by his wife, he died on 19 December 1993 at Caloundra and was cremated. The AMS established the Norman R. Greber trophy, awarded annually to a member judged to have made an outstanding contribution to the industry.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Burnett, Bob. ‘The Macadamia King: Norm Leads the Way.’ Sunshine Coast Daily, 7 August 1982, 9

  • News Bulletin (Australian Macadamia Society). ‘Obituary.’ January 1994, 3

  • Greber, N. R. ‘Macadamia Country.’ Yearbook (California Macadamia Society) (1963): 35–37

  • Greber, N. R. ‘The Macadamia in Australia.’ Yearbook (California Macadamia Society) (1962): 46–47

  • Greber, Norm. ‘Nuts to the Knockers.’ News Bulletin (Australian Macadamia Society), 7 March 1981, 11–12

  • Jones, Neil. ‘Ingenious Farmer with Eye for Ideas.’ Australian, 10 January 1994, 13

  • Mcconachie, Ian. ‘Norm Greber’s Life at Nutty Glen.’ News Bulletin (Australian Macadamia Society), December 2011, 18-19

  • McConachie, Ian. ‘Norm Greber—the Man behind the Award.’ News Bulletin (Australian Macadamia Society), October 2011, 12

  • Yearbook (California Macadamia Society). ‘Norman R. Greber—Honorary Life Member.’ 27 (1981): 25–26

Citation details

Ian McConachie, 'Greber, Norman Rae (Norm) (1902–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/greber-norman-rae-norm-25514/text33859, published online 2017, accessed online 25 October 2020.

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