In biblical times, when the great flood that had inundated the earth began to recede, a dove returned to Noah’s ark with a sprig of olive leaves in its beak. Tears of joy might have been shed by the people huddled on this legendary craft as they caught their first glimpse of a land where new life could begin. And when Ken and Regina Roland found their own corner of paradise in 1993, they too were filled with emotion as they strode confidently into a new phase of their lives.
They initially ran a few cattle on their property near the town of Montgomery, and by the time they’d converting a derelict cottage into a comfortable family home, they’d put down firm roots, and a new vision of the future, a future in which olive trees would play an important role, began to blossom.
Olive trees (Olea europaea) were first cultivated in Syria more than 5,000 years ago, but there was little interest when they were first introduced to Australia in 1805. European immigrants who flocked to Australia following World War II were eager to cultivate them however, and established olive groves to feed their passion for the flavours of their homelands. High labour costs eventually brought the industry to its knees, but in recent decades an increasing demand for olives and for olive oil has breathed new life into this sector of agriculture.
Olive growing was in its infancy in the Montgomery region in 1998, but it was then, undaunted by their relative lack of knowledge, that Ken and Regina took their first step towards the establishment of Naturally Yours Olives. They invited a group of friends to lunch, and all they wanted in return for a sumptuous meal was some help to plant 200 trees. More were planted over the following months, and today some 800 trees are thriving in three separate groves on the 30 hectare property.
Olive trees, with their grey/green leathery leaves, are extremely hardy and very drought tolerant, and have a lifespan of more than 1,000 years. They produce the optimum yield of fruit in regions with cool winters and hot dry summers, but that’s not an apt description of the climate in the Montgomery area where winters are relatively warm and summers frequently hot and humid.
Ken and Regina planted fourteen varieties, including Frantoio, Kalamata, and Barnea, and Manzanillo, that they were confident would be suitable for the local conditions, but the Manzanillos, which accounted for 50 per cent of their trees, proved to be unsuitable for the production of fruit. “They require 12 days with average temperatures of 12 degrees Celsius,” Regina said. “In winter it can go down to 2-3 degrees overnight, but during the day it’s around 25 degrees, and that gives an average that’s too high for Manzanillos.”
Well drained sandy soil with a pH of 6.0 - 8.0 is the most appropriate for olives, but the trees growing in one of Ken and Regina’s groves have been denied those ideal conditions. Here, where there’s a section of clay soil, the trees rely...