George Stevenson
George Stevenson

John Bailey

John Bailey

Samuel Davenport

Samuel Davenport

Below, Left: Remnants of Bailey's Garden olives, Hackney
Below,Centre: Adelaide Gaol olive trees, Parklands, Thebarton
Below, Right: Avenue of olives at Gleeside, Beaumont (originally planted at Bailey's)
Since the beginning of white settlement, olive trees have been a familiar sight - some would say, too familiar - in Adelaide and the surrounding countryside. In 1874, John Dow, a visiting journalist, observed that "In almost every one of the numerous gardens and orchards surrounding the city, the olive can be seen flourishing". Although most of the colonial trees have succumbed to neglect and urban development, many of these old olive trees have endured as a living part of our heritage.

Olives were amongst the first exotic plants introduced into South Australia. At least one olive seedling was brought out on the Buffalo in 1836 by George Stevenson; it was planted in 'Stevensonšs Garden' in Lower North Adelaide where, we believe, it survives. Stevenson was a gifted amateur horticulturist who advocated the widespread cultivation of useful plants that were likely to be well suited to the South Australian environment - vines, citrus trees, figs and especially olives. In 1844 Stevenson persuaded the South Australia Company to import better varieties of olive trees. These were planted in or near John Bailey's Hackney Nursery, on the north-eastern corner of Hackney Road and North Terrace; remnants of these olives survive in the area. Bailey was a gifted 'agriculturist', the first Colonial Botanist and tenant of the Botanic Gardens; he too had brought a number of young olive trees when he emigrated.

In 1851 South Australia exhibited a single bottle of olive oil extracted from fruit from Bailey's Garden at the Great Exhibition in London where it won an honourable mention for its purity and clarity. This demonstrated the potential for an olive industry and, supplied with stock propagated at Bailey's Garden, encouraged landowners to cultivate olives.

John Bailey closed his Hackney Nursery in 1858, auctioning his stock, including over 15,000 olive trees. These formed the basis for the initial growth of olive cultivation throughout the colony. Bailey's customers included the Adelaide City Council and Samuel Davenport, the 'father of the olive industry'.

As early as 1856 the Adelaide City Council had commissioned John Bailey to revegetate the North Adelaide Parklands. Hence Bailey planted the olive groves in the Parklands at Mann Terrace in 1856-7. The Council continued to plant olives in the Parklands, notably, from 1862, around the [Old] Adelaide Gaol.

To provide employment for the prisoners as well as to generate some income the Superintendent of the Gaol, William Boothby, extended the original olive grove, from about 1100 trees in 1862 to over 5000 trees by 1880. The historical importance of Boothby and the Gaol olives is that, according to the editor of the South Australian Register in 1875, "[he] was the first to take substantial steps with a view to demonstrating the value of olive oil manufacture andŠ in the year 1870 to manufacture oil." Although there were earlier attempts to press olive oil, the Adelaide Gaol was the first commercial olive press in Australia. The operation was so successful that Boothby was soon prohibited from purchasing olives from private producers, although the Gaol olives continued to be supplemented by fruit from the other Council groves. These olives were harvested by 'lunatics' from the Asylums, destitute women and orphans.

Samuel Davenport planted olives at 'Claremont' at Beaumont, the residence of Bishop Short, in 1852. Between 1858 and 1864 Davenport expanded his groves by replanting trees and cuttings from Bailey's Garden at 'Gleeville', around Beaumont House and, from the 1870s, in many of his numerous country properties. By the end of the decade the Beaumont olives numbered about 12,000 trees, some planted as groves, most planted around the perimeter of Davenport's vineyards. Under the management of his nephew, George Fullerton Cleland, the grove reached its maximum size, about 16,000 trees, at the turn of the century.

In 1864 Davenport experimented with extracting oil, crushing the olives in a kitchen mincer, thereby rendering it completely useless. Later attempts were evidently more successful. In 1872­3, he imported a 'Chilean' mill and established a commercial olive oil press that serviced not only the Davenport groves but those of many olive growers around Adelaide. The press and parts of the grove were sold to Fullerton Cleland in 1880; the press continued operating until 1962.

Davenport's significance was not only as an olive grower and oil producer but more as an influential publicist and recognised authority on the industry. If Stevenson and Bailey had demonstrated the horticultural suitability of olives and Boothby had proven that the olives could be used, Davenport established the commercial viability of the olive industry in South Australia.

Given our colonial Anglo-Saxon culinary traditions, why did the early settlers introduce and continue to cultivate olives? Surprisingly, at least part of the answer is that, until the petroleum revolution, olive oil had a ready market for industrial and pharmaceutical uses. Although the benefits of the Mediterranean diet were known in the nineteenth century, until recently the culinary uses of olives and olive oil seems to have been limited to salad dressing and frying fish. Fortunately post-war immigrants from Italy and Greece have reminded us of value of South Australia's olive heritage.

Bailey's Garden Adelaide Gaol Gleeside avenue