Harvest Harvesting

The age-old technique of combing the olive tree hasn’t been bettered for a great harvest. Photos supplied

Freo’s historic olives give up their fruit

AS the fruit bending the branches of Freo’s ubiquitous and historic olive trees begin to blacken, a new generation of residents are preparing to join the city’s elders in carrying on the tradition of combing their branches.

Some of the trees are reportedly almost as old as the city itself, and for those itching to pluck the ripe fruit before it drops, Hilton Harvest committee member Amy Warne says don’t be shy about asking.

“Most people are really happy to see their olives go to be used, Ms Warne says.

Hilton Harvest and other community gardens host yearly harvests, trucking olives off to be processed and returning them as olive oil. According to Ms Warne, the black nuggets they simply don’t have enough hands to mine make a slightly grim statement about the community’s engagement with sustainability. 

Lighting lamps

“It’s a lot about food waste,” she says. 

“It’s tragic to see it all just lying on the ground.”

Olives have long been an important resource for Fremantle residents. 

Australian Garden History Society WA branch chairman John Viska says the first European settlers brought olives for oil to light their lamps.

Mr Viska says olive oil was a favoured light source which dated back to the Roman era due to the brightness of its flame. 

As olive oil was supplanted by kerosene as a flame source in the late 1800s, Fremantle’s olives have been used primarily as a food source.

Perth’s oldest olive tree is said to be found in the garden of the Government House, where it may have been planted by WA’s first governor, Sir James Stirling.

The new arrivals to the Swan River Colony quickly discovered olives were well suited to the climate. Later groups of immigrants, including Benedictine monks in the 1840s and Italians facing wartime poverty in the 1940s and 50s, brought new varieties. 

These waves of olive munchers are responsible for the wide variety enthusiasts can discover by a simple walk around the block.

Freo’s olive trees are an element of living history; a trip to the Fremantle Italian Club is still bound to yield a lively discussion about the best means of pickling.

And a neighbourhood stroll with grocery bag in hand can produce a bounty that would otherwise be crushed underfoot.

To participate in a centuries-old tradition, join the Fremantle olive harvest, by registering at hilton.harvest@gmail.com. Be sure to pick olives between Thursday and Sunday, and drop at them at the garden behind the Hilton Primary School from 4-7pm on Sunday April 18.

Oil will also be on sale at Hilton Harvest’s Open Garden Day on Sunday, April 24.

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