ADELAIDE’S WEST TERRACE Cemetery has its share of famous residents, not all of them human. The sell-out release of the cemetery’s own boutique olive oil, grown on site, has drawn attention to the established groves of olive trees that populate the grounds of the city’s most visible burial place. These trees, like the cemetery itself, date from the mid-nineteenth century, a time when death was not something to hide, but was incorporated into the everyday lives of the living. The siting of a cemetery on a prime arterial road of the growing city suggested to its citizens that the past would remain visible, but in a settled, eulogistic form. The olive trees, in turn, spoke of the future, with their potential to live for thousands of years. They flower and fruit, and flower and fruit, on and on, silent sentinels over the dead.
Olive seedlings joined the first colonists on the Buffalo’s journey to South Australia in 1836 (one resulting tree is believed to be thriving in inner suburban North Adelaide), and were followed by many more. By the 1870s there were tens of thousands of olive trees populating the Adelaide plains, thriving in the city’s celebrated ‘Mediterranean climate’, and an olive oil micro-industry resulted. According to Craig Hill, a historian of Adelaide’s olive tree plantings, Adelaide was the ‘olive oil capital of Australia’ by the end of the nineteenth century. While the industry subsequently declined, the trees have remained, clustered in groves around the city’s Park Lands, and throughout inner suburbia and the foothills. Hill has called for this largely forgotten history of civic olive oil tree cultivation in the city to be remembered, and celebrated in turn, through renewed investment in local olive oil production. These trees once again look towards the future. And there is an urgent context for taking this seriously.
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