‘A land of oil olive’

Women Picking Olives, 1889, Van Gogh

Women Picking Olives, 1889, Van Gogh

Olive trees grow in South Australia on just the scent of rain and the poorest of soils. They are shockers to remove but as they are extremely flammable local councils do their best to get most of them out of the bushland around here. It’s a three person job to get one tree out – one person with a chainsaw, another person standing by with a drill and another with a bottle of poison, and maybe even another standing by with a bobcat, a box of matches, a can of petrol and a cup of tea for everyone.

You have to cut the tree to ground level, drill deep holes in the stump and then pour poison into the holes immediately. Very labour intensive work, so the councils can’t afford as much olive eradication as they’d like. They used to cut the trees down, then cut the branches into good firewood size and then down tools and leave piles of olive wood everywhere. Not the smartest fire prevention strategy if you are hoping to reduce the fuel load. But maybe they knew we were there, lurking behind a clump of scrub, wheelbarrow at the ready, eyes shining with firewood lust and itching to solve their problem.

Council guys move on, we move in. Its hard work hauling firewood up a rocky slope but memories of how cold it gets in the Hills spurs us on to feats of endurance. We could secure a whole winter’s firewood with a weekend of hard labour. Now the council poison the trees and haul the branches away and we spend quite a few cold nights forlornly watching our stash dwindle.

Olive Grove, Adelaide

Olive Grove, Adelaide

In these parts, free firewood is a prize. A prize worth fighting for and few trees fall and are allowed to rot quietly into the soil. I’ve heard stories of a road on the other side of the ridge where a car ran into a large eucalypt and before the shocked, but unharmed driver, could even call the police two men from separate dwellings raced into the street with their chainsaws, eyes afire with wood lust. Could be an urban myth, but I doubt it.

We have three olive trees on our property. Two arrived via a passing bird but the third is a Giant Kalamata given to us by a relative who runs an olive orchard. The two feral trees thrive in this harsh environment, the pedigree olive tree struggles. Yesterday we harvested a couple of buckets of black olives from the two trees and will spend the next few weeks fiddling about with water and salt as their bitterness is leached away. Then they’ll be packed in jars with garlic and rosemary, placed somewhere dark for six months and forgotten.

Then one day we’ll find them again. They’ll be delicious and their meaty salty flesh will be a reminder as to why we allow our own olive trees to endure when in the bushland all around us the war against olives rages on. But I know who will ultimately take possession of this rocky, forbidding hill.

olives2

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