Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Olives in Regional Australia - Introduction

Photo: Green Frantoio. Australian Olive Association

When I was growing up in Regional Australia olives were still an alien product. Yes, we ate them sometimes, but we never used olive oil. In fact, as a child I confused olive oil with cod liver oil, a nasty tasting substance that our mother used to give us sometimes when we were off- colour.

How things change. Now I use olive oil all the time in cooking, while we eat olives two to three times per week in anti pasto. I do not pretend to be expert, but certainly my own views have changed enormously.

This change in my own habits is a sign of a broader change.

I did not know until I came to research this story that olive growing had a long history in Australia.

The history of olive farming in Australia dates back to the early 1800’s. Olives were probably first planted in groves around 1805 in Parramatta near Sydney.

All the states and territories, excluding Tasmania were planted with some varieties of olive trees during the 1800s. During this period, South Australia and Victoria were the states where most of the planting was going on and they were considered the leaders at that time.

The problem with these early plantings was that Australians at the time (like me) saw olive oil as a medicinal rather than culinary product, thus limiting demand. Like wine, olives were very much a minority product.

It was not until the fifties when large numbers of settlers came to Australia from Southern Europe that community attitudes began to change. These settlers brought their diet with them.

Initially this had limited impact. Then, as with so many other areas of Australian life, their tastes began to spread into the broader community. As they did, demand for olives and olive oil as a food product began to increase.

In the beginning, this demand was met largely from European imports. However, recent decades have seen a rapid expansion of Australian plantings, leading to the development of a local olive industry. As with wine, Australia is fortunate to have large areas of country suitable for olive growing, facilitating expansion.

I suspect that the local olive industry now stands in roughly the same place that wine did in the sixties. Then no one could have envisaged the huge growth in the local industry nor the fact that Australian wine would become such a force in the global wine marketplace.

Like wine, the Australian olive industry has to educate consumers about the local product. Again like wine, the local olive industry has a strong boutique element as producers in various parts of the country attempt to establish individual reputations.

Unlike wine, though, which in some ways had to start from scratch, the olive industry is building from an already established and growing culinary base. It is no coincidence that there is a strong relationship between wine and olive growing regions.

Major Australian olive regions include:

  • Moore River Region, Margaret River and Great Southern Regions of Western Australia
  • Fleurieu Peninsula and the East/South East of South Australia
  • North, Central and Western Victoria
  • Northern Slopes of New South Wales, Hunter Valley and the Murray Irrigation Area
  • South Eastern Queensland

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