The History of Olive Farming in Australia

Olive farming in Australia dates back to the early 1800's most probably with its beginnings in New South Wales.  Historians believe that the many ships arriving on our shores carried olive trees most of which were planted mainly in South Australia and Victoria.  In the 1830's South Australia began to lead the local olive industry importing thousands of trees from France, Sicily and Rio de Janeiro. According to Dr Michael Burr, by 1875 there were over 3,000 trees in the Adelaide parklands and over time, local olive oil company, Stonyfell won Gold Medals in 1911 for oil they exported to Italy.  Groves continued to expand until the 1920's when suburban housing took over the land and spread over nearby borders and to Dookie, Sunbury, Wangaratte and Horsham.

Irrigated trees and processing equipment was established in 1956 in Robinvale, however in the 1970's when Mediterranean labour and production costs plummeted, and olive products were being imported at unbeatably low prices, the majority of trees were uprooted.

Western Australia was also building a local olive industry reportedly from early 1860, with an impressive reputation of it's olive oil.  In fact, in 1908, WA's Norcia Monastery's oil won silver at the prestigious Franco-British Exhibition.  


Perth's Parliament House has some very old olive trees located in its front garden - believed to be the oldest in Australia.

Sunny Queensland was no exception, with a large amount of trees being planted in the Brisbane city area.  There is an interesting historical journal Cultural Industries for Queensland published in 1883, which gives us insight into the motivation behind local growers.

"I think that in our early operations we shall do well to plant those kinds which have been proved by the nearest of our neighbours - Camden Park, the estate of the late Sir William Macarthur, the nearest locality to Brisbane where the olive has been grown to an extent sufficient for the manufacture of oil and for testing different varieties of the tree who have grown olives to be early and abundant bearers. The olive fruited well on the coast near Brisbane and gives good promise on the Darling Downs."

Post-war immigrants saw the wonderful opportunity in Australia to purchase large pockets of well-priced land with an ideal climate to grow olives. Unfortunately for them, olive oil produced in those pioneering days didn't have a market other than for medicine and received very low prices.  

Now that olive oil is recognised for it's health benefits, Australian grown and processed olives and oil play a key role in our diets and enjoy immense popularity.

Sources: Australian Olive Gower, 1997

Posted on September 22, 2015 .

Olives - where it all began

The history of the olive is a long one, dating back to Biblical times. The olive branch was the symbol shown by God to Noah to indicate the end of the flood.

According to Greek mythology, the olive tree was a gift from the goddess Athena to the people of Athens.

In fact, olive trees were cultivated in Crete and Assyria over 5000 years ago. And the olive itself has been eaten and enjoyed by all the peoples of the region for thousands of years.

Throughout the Mediterranean, the olive has always been highly valued; olive oil was used as fuel; as a preservative; as an analgesic; and as a perfume. Olive wood was used for construction and decoration.

Source: Guide To Olives

Posted on September 6, 2015 .

The remarkable story of the Helena

Australia's first International Agriculture Winner!

est. Queensland's St Helena Island

St Helena Island, Moreton Bay, being a self-funded penal settlement, had a commercial grove of olive trees in the early 1900's.  Prisoners had to grow their own food and sell produce to purchase goods and equipment.  Remarkably, one of their most popular products was their locally grown and processed olive oil, being exported directly to Italy.

St Helena Penal Establishment was proclaimed in May 1867 and was a high security prison for long-term inmates until the 1920s, when it was decided to wind down the prison. It then functioned as a prison farm until it closed in December 1932.

In fact there is a Helena Olive Tree variety that has been preserved from the penal settlement and is said to be very similar to a Frantoio.  It is believed that its olives won Australia's first international agricultural award.  Today, olive trees still fruit on St Helena Island.

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Recently in 2013, a local Brisbane resident, Trisha Anderson, discovered this watercolour wrapped up in plastic and towels hidden in a wardrobe of her Hendra home.   Her grandfather, William Gall, was a comptroller of the Queensland prisons in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  One of his jobs was to regularly travel to and inspect St Helena Island...the painting was presented to him when he retired in the early 1920's. She later learned that this is the only painting of St Helena Island in existence.  This rare treasure was donated to the Museum of Brisbane and is claimed to be one of the most exciting finds in the last 10 years by local historians. It was painted by 33 year old inmate, Charles Winn in 1878.


St Helena Olive – Now here is a plant with both a wonderful story and exceptional fruit.

Now here is plant with a rich and interesting history. The original Helena Olive was planted in the late 1800’s on St Helena Island, located off the coast of Brisbane in Moreton Bay. This island operated as a high security prison from 1867 to the 1920’s, and is today a heritage National Park. The original olive made its way from Europe to the Island, via a magistrate, and has continued to thrive in the testing Moreton Bay environment.

Today, this plant is a 3rd generation heritage tree, which not only offers a wonderful story, but also exceptional fruit and award winning olive oil. The Helena Olive will fruit in the South East Queensland climate, which for an olive is impressive in itself. Suitable for in the garden or on the patio in a pot, the Helena Olive is a beautiful looking tree that will add a little bit of Queensland history to your garden.

It is also worth noting that 5 cents from every plant sold goes to Queensland Parks and Wildlife to ensure the ongoing preservation of the historic structures on St Helena Island.

 

Photograph Noel Burdette:

A new cultivar that has grown in popularity in recent years under the name of “St Helena” as seen a dramatic increase in the use of these trees in our backyards .

Having been originally grown on St HelenaIsland in MoretonBay for over the past 100 years, it has truly proved itself to be an outstanding performer for our climate. So successful was this original grove planted out by the warden of the prison on the island at the time that the fruit was shipped back to Italy!

Now we can all own a little piece of this heritage listed grove by planting our own “St Helena” olive in our own backyards.


Sources: Australian Olive Gower, 1997; St Helena Island Education Centre; Brisbane Times Dec 10, 2013; Bush Garden Nursery 2012; Noel Burdette - Every Garden Deserves a Silver Lining;

Posted on July 6, 2015 .

TABLE OLIVES - THE AUSTRALIAN MARKETPLACE

AUSTRALIAN TABLE OLIVES - OUR MARKETPLACE


The Treetops objective is to take advantage of this imbalance by producing on a sustainable basis high quality, fresh, source identifiable consistent quality table olives at its own processing facility.

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Australian Table Olives - An Overview 2015

By Peter McFarlane, McFarlane Strategic Services

Convenor, AOA National Table Olive Committee

Australian table olive production for the 2014 season is estimated at 3,500 tonne, with a Gross Value of Production (GVP) of AUD$10 million.

Australian apparent consumption of table olives (domestic production plus imports, minus exports) is estimated at 18 million kg or 0.8 kg / person, with imported table olives comprising more than 80% of Australian domestic consumption.

Domestic and export market conditions remain challenging for table olive producers, with Australian supermarket shelves dominated with cheap imported products, and with limited capacity for high cost Australian producers to win export markets.

Subsequent to a 24%[1] depreciation of the Australian Dollar (A$) against the euro (EUR) between August 2012 and December 2013, from a high of EUR 0.85 to a low of EUR 0.65, (which served to make imports dearer and exports more competitive), over the past 12 months the A$ has rallied by 7.5% to EUR 0.70, thereby making imported olive products correspondingly cheaper, and applying downward pressure on domestic wholesale prices.

Whilst the quality of Australian table olives is considered to be of a high standard, ours is a small developing industry of mostly boutique growers that currently supply the local tourist market. These enterprises will need to be scaled up in order to reliably supply specialty continental food shops and the major retail chains. Encouragingly, Sandhurst Fine Foods are now distributing a range of Australian table olive products to supermarket chains, demonstrating the potential of this sector.

Australian table olive exports in the 2013-2014 ABS reporting period is 132 tonne (down 34% on the 198 tonne exported in the previous reporting period), with a total value of A$0.98 million. The 18 destination countries listed include: NZ (54%), Turkey (13%), Chile (9%), UAE (9%), Japan (3%), Hong Kong (2%), Malaysia (2%), Philippines (2%). The average value of exports was A$7.45 per kg including: NZ ($8.26), Turkey ($1.80), Chile ($2.95), UAE ($12.21), Japan ($6.47), Hong Kong ($8.37), Malaysia ($6.29), Philippines ($6.83).

Table olive imports in the 2013-2014 ABS reporting period, were 14,649 tonne (c.f. 15,397 tonne imported in the previous reporting period), with a total value of A$44.4 million, comprising:

  • Black olives: 9,763 tonne with a total value of A$29.5 million
  • Green olives: 4,886 tonne with a total value of A$14.9 million

The 26 countries of origin include Greece (40%), Spain (40%), Chile (7%), Italy (5%), Turkey (3%), Morocco (2%) and other (4%), with the average value of imports being A$3.03 per kg, including Greece ($3.94), Spain ($2.01), Chile ($3.28), Italy ($4.36), Turkey ($2.50), and Morocco ($2.64).

Some other useful table olive references:

  • Establishing Protocols and Guidelines for Table Olives processing in Australia’ (RIRDC 2004)[6], and a companion publication –Producing Table Olives (Landlinks Press 2007)[7], by Professor Stan Kailis and David Harris provides Australian olive growers and processors with internationally based guidelines for ensuring the quality and safety of processed table olives.
  • A simple “how to” guide to processing various styles of table olives by Professor Stan Kailis can be found on the AOA website[8].

 

Posted on July 5, 2015 .