A writer keen to share knowledge of South East Asia and loves exploring and writing about the gems in the community, art and culture of Adelaide, as well as towns and cities further afield.
Published July 30th 2014
Did you know? - Adelaide's olive tree history
How many of us drive into Adelaide on a regular basis and see but give no thought to the olive trees that surround the city? In how many cities in the world would you find olive groves as part of the city's surrounding parklands? My curiosity has increased over the years and particularly since returning to Adelaide to live. This is a snapshot of what I have found, some self-guided trails you can walk yourself and options for further reading if interested. You will forever look at those olive trees differently after reading.
Historical olive tree plantation Mann Terrace Adelaide
All states and territories in Australia where planting olives in the 1800s and South Australia and Victoria had the most planting. South Australia led the olive industry in the 1830s and between 1830 and 1850 olive trees were brought in from France, Rio de Janeiro and Sicily. These South Australian trees produced oil that was sent to the London Exhibition in 1851 and won honourable mention.
Olives have been grown in the Adelaide Parklands since 1837. Six olive trees were brought on the HMS Buffalo in 1836 by Governor John Hindmarsh and planted in his garden, now Elder Park. These trees were reportedly later moved to George Stevenson's garden in North Adelaide. In 1844 the South Australia Company imported more olive trees. These were planted in John Bailey's Hackney Nursery on the northeast corner of Hackney Road and North Terrace.
Historical olive tree plantation Mann Terrace Adelaide
Interesting to note that at this time in Adelaide's history the parklands were also used to quarry stone, brick making, depasturing cattle and goats, dumping rubbish, industrial waste and human sewerage. A far cry from the well-kept and nurtured parklands we enjoy today.
In 1856 the Adelaide City Council commissioned John Bailey the first Colonial Botanist to re-vegetate the North Adelaide Parklands. Bailey then went about planting olive groves in the Parklands at Mann Terrace in 1856-7. The Council then continued to plant olives in the Parklands.
In 1862 olive trees were planted around the Old Adelaide Goal to provide employment 'of a suitable character' for the 'light-sentenced' prisoners and to generate some income. Sheriff of Adelaide and Superintendent of the Goal William Boothby instigated the initiative. An initial six or seven acres had expanded to 22 – 25 acres by 1870, which contained between 4,000 – 5,000 olive trees, some having been imported from Italy by Boothby himself. By the end of the 1800s the plantation extended from Morphett Street Railway to the Thebarton corner of Port Road and from the Torrens to North Terrace and Port Road. Boothby had by then developed the largest olive plantation in colonial South Australia, possibly Australia. Boothby then went on to establish a mill and olive lever press in 1870. This enthusiasm for olive based income generation was picked up by the 'cash strapped' Adelaide Council who from 1870 – 1875 planted more olives in the parklands for beautification and income generation from the oil.
South Australian olive oil was exported to all states in Australia, New Zealand and London. An article on the olive oil potential from 1929 can be read here trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/58622321
The planting continued: Adelaide's City Gardener William Pengilly reported olive planting in Light Square, Mann Terrace and Elder Park (North Adelaide Plantations) Bay Road (no Anzac Highway), West Terrace, North Terrace and Racecourse (Wakefield Street), both sides of Unley Road, West Terrace, East Parklands between the Botanic Gardens and the old racecourse, between Walkerville and the River Torrens., Whitmore Square,Hindmarsh Square and Wellington Square.
Bailey closed the Hackney Nursery in 1858 and the stock was auctioned off including over 15,000 olive trees that later formed the basis of olive cultivation throughout Adelaide.
In 1864 Samuel Davenport tried to extract oil from the olive. In 1872 he imported a Chilean Mill and started a commercial olive oil press, which stayed in operation until 1962.
By 1875 it was reported that there were about 30,000 trees planted in the parklands surrounding Adelaide. Between 1860 and the mid 1880s olives were 13 percent of the trees and shrubs planted by the council and 10 percent of the trees in the parklands.
The legacy - olive trees now in the waterways of the Torrens River
By 1884 the olive groves under the charge of the Adelaide Corporation were in disrepair needing pruning and beetle infection control. The industry was starting to suffer from cheap imported oil so interest in investment in maintenance of the trees to increase productivity and profitability of the Adelaide Goal press was disappearing.
Parkland olives culture and heritage – their future
The parkland olive trees are considered distinct and an 'integral part of Adelaide's history'. The Adelaide Parklands olives are considered unique on a global scale. Nowhere else have olives been cultivated to such a large extent on public or community ground. The olives are connected to early colonial horticulture and industrial development and the involvement of many Adelaide historical figures.
Adelaide City Council now has a 'Parkland Olive Management Plan' to support preservation, remediation and active maintenance of the groves considered to be of historical significance. Some consider the historical presence of the olives in Adelaide today should be used for Adelaide to reclaim its title of the 'Olive capital of Australia'.
There is quite a bit documented about Adelaide's olive history and its impact and presence in Adelaide's parklands and really worth a read for those interested.
It is now possible to do two walks around the city's historical trees. Self guided Adelaide Olive Grove trail maps can be downloaded from this site full of information collated by Mr Craig Hill of Adelaide . From this you will learn far more than I have been able to summarise here. Enjoy.