A certain serenity pervades the home and grounds of Glynn and Barbara Kelly, whose olive grove in Kulgun looks out to the mountains and the surrounding countryside. Glynn and Barbara were teachers in Brisbane before they moved to the Scenic Rim, where they purchased a rural property with the potential to earn an income. The grove now has around 700 trees of different varieties, and they are grown without artificial fertilisers or pesticides. Glynn and Barbara have also added beautiful cottage accommodation to the property — The Grove Cottage — which overlooks the olive grove. It sleeps up to six people and is the perfect place to stay when visiting the Scenic Rim. (www.scenicrimolives.com.au)
GLYNN & BARBARA KELLY
Why did you establish an olive grove?
GLYNN: Well, Barb’s the farmer. She comes from a farming family. We’re both from a teaching background. When we went into early retirement, we wanted to have an acreage, and also make that acreage productive. We looked at a whole lot of crops and, being incurable romantics …
Actually, first of all, we went for lavender. We put about 3000 lavender plants on the front paddock and they all died. But we had the olives set up as plan B. The first row we put in was a trial of about eight different varieties, just to see which would grow and which would bear fruit, and so on and so forth. Then, the olives came good. The next key factor that really swung us into the olive thing in a big way was, we were at Arts in the Olives and we met Ian and Dot Roy from Coolana Olives. He’s the president of the South East Queensland Olive Association, and they’ve more or less been mentors to us. Ian and Dot have been absolutely fantastic. They’ve been involved in the industry a lot longer than us and they judge quite a few shows. Actually, I did a course with Ian, a judging course, and I have judged with him as the chief steward. But they know olives back to front, and they’ve been quite open and shared all their secrets with us. Most of the secrets …
Why the Scenic Rim?
BARBARA: We were living in Brisbane and just started coming out here for drives. We thought it was quite beautiful out here, like so many people after us and before us. We thought we’d like to move out of the city — we didn’t really enjoy it that much.
So, you were both teaching?
BARBARA: Yes. Glynn teaches industrial technology and design, and I was deputy at Forest Lake. When we came out here, I was very fortunate to get a transfer to Boonah High as deputy there. Then Glynn retired from Forest Lake and I retired from there. We started focusing more on the olives, to give us something to do, and hopefully some income as well.
What varieties of trees are growing?
GLYNN: Quite a few different varieties. The long answer to that question is, there was a boom in olives about twenty years ago. There was a guy who ran a nursery who went around and spoke to lots of groups of people, saying they were a great investment, easy to grow, didn’t need water, so on and so forth, and a nice thing to do. You see lots of little groves around the place. Most of those are frantoio and a bit of manzanillo. Unfortunately, the frantoio in particular have a lot of trouble bearing fruit. You mightn’t see fruit in the first ten or fifteen years.
The other big mistake people made with olives … Because we’re in South East Queensland with dry winters and wet summers, it is almost the exact reverse of the Mediterranean climate. So, you do need water. Lots of people put the trees in and didn’t have a source of reliable water, and if you don’t give them a drink, you are not going to get any fruit. We have frantoio in, but we planted a lot of varieties: manzanillos, arbequina, barnea, coratina, koroneiki, picual …
BARBARA: But the ones that bear the most fruit are the manzanillo and the arbequina.
How many trees are there in the grove?
GLYNN: Seven hundred or so. We put in that first lot, and there was about forty in that lot, and every year after we put in about one hundred trees. Probably the predominant ones are the manzanillos and the arbequinas. The manzanillos are southern Italian, and the arbequina is the number one Spanish variety. Both of those are quite hot climates, whereas your frantoios are more a northern Tuscan Italian kind of variety.
But it is still a big mystery as to what makes an olive tree produce fruit. They get to this time of year when they’re all flowering, and they have a thing called bud differentiation. If you pull back the leaf, you’ll see a tiny little white bud, and that bud at this time of year decides, ‘Am I going to be a flower and make fruit, or am I going to be another leaf and a branch?’ And, if you are lucky, they all go, ‘Let’s be flowers.’
BARBARA: But sometimes not.
GLYNN: Well, the frantoio year after year …
BARBARA: They decide they are going to be leaves instead of flowers.
GLYNN: You have incredibly healthy trees but they just sit there and sit there.
And you produce infused olive oils …
BARBARA: We do a lemon, garlic and rosemary, a plain garlic, a lemon myrtle, a lemon and lime, chilli and lime, ginger and garlic, and the orange.
What are your most popular table olives?
GLYNN: Probably the most successful table olive has been the cracked green manzanillo. Once again, because we know Ian and Dot Roy, he has a machine that cracks olives. So, when they are green and crunchy, you can crack them off the pit, which means when you put them into brine, they’re ready in about six weeks as opposed to a year, because the salt, the brine, goes in so much quicker. So, the green manzanillos have been quite popular. And we’ve done arbequinas — which are a small olive, often sold as a wild olive — they’re quite nice. We’ve also let the manzanillos become ripe and done a ripe manzanillo. Another one we do is a smoked olive, just smoked in a little ironbark smoker.
Where do you sell your product?
BARBARA: We mostly do functions, big events like Arts in the Olives, and the Boonah Show, because you have a big turnover in one day and it is easy. Poppi’s Pantry in Boonah stocks them, and then we have product in Wiss Emporium at Kalbar, at Aratula Traders and Terri Taylor at Tamborine Cooking School puts in a big order. It is only a boutique industry that we’re in, and we’d prefer to sell our product and when it is gone it is gone, and then we wait again until next year.
GLYNN: This whole district is focused on agritourism. If I sold olives into the bulk market, I’d probably get about $7 a litre, but to me it is worth $20 a litre by the time we bottle, package and sell it, giving me a good return. At $20 a litre, it is quite viable; at $7 a litre, it is not.
Do you use your own product?
BARBARA: We put lashings of olive oil on everything. That onion tart I just made, when I put the caramelised onion in the pastry, I thought, ‘That looks a bit dry’, so I just got the olive oil bottle and … We use it in dressings, sauces, mayonnaise. We put it in just about everything where you would use butter or margarine. Cakes, salads … When you think about oil, it is something that is a staple, a basic in everything you cook.
GLYNN: The Italians make food taste great with good, healthy ingredients. I mean, if you put in enough butter and cream you can make anything taste good. But you can eat their food and walk away feeling good.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
GLYNN: Australian olive oil is now one of the best oils in the world. Two years in a row at the New York Food and Wine Show they’ve won the best of show, which is just astonishing. I’d just urge everyone to get out there and buy Australian product, whether it is a local product, or even a big brand, it is still going to be absolutely top-quality stuff. Get into it. It is fantastic.