MercyCare / News / Traditional olive harvest brings MercyCare volunteers together

Traditional olive harvest brings MercyCare volunteers together

MercyCare’s Wembley Intergenerational Campus was a hive of activity as the community banded together for the annual olive harvest thanks to some generous volunteers.

309 kilograms of olives were harvested, thanks to collaboration with the Benedictine Community of New Norcia who’s equipment was use to harvest the olives.

Among the volunteers were MercyCare staff, their families, local residents, and current clients from refugee and asylum-seeker backgrounds.

Some of the clients had recently been employed for olive harvest at the New Norcia olive farm. This employment collaboration is in it’s third year with a number of refugees and people seeking asylum gaining paid employment. This provides them with much needed first time work experience in Australia and helps with gaining long term stable employment.

MercyCare volunteers before the olive harvest
MercyCare volunteers laying the mats for the harvest

The picking process

Among the MercyCare volunteers on the day were several Wembley residents who have lived in the area for their whole lives. They fondly recalled their childhood days of visiting the then orphanage on weekends and observing the olive harvest.

Back in those days, the men would climb the trees and dislodge the olives using a wooden cane with a mat that would catch the olives as they fell to the ground.

The process today has not changed a lot, with the cane replaced by a specialised air rake while the rest of the harvest remains mostly the same.

A volunteer using an air rake in an olive tree
MercyCare volunteers sifting through buckets of olives

The olives fell onto shade cloth laid out underneath the trees, swept in to piles and then collected in buckets with dustpans and brushes.

From there, the olives were separated from the debris of leaves and transferred to a truck for transportation.

History of the olive trees

The centuries-old trees were planted in the 1850s by Benedictine Monks who occupied the site through to the 1860s. Monks had harvested olives, which they pressed in The Stables nearby onsite to make olive oil.

Over time, the Stables fell in to disrepair after years of neglect until the recent restoration returned the building to its original glory.

An old photo of stables before restoration
The Stables prior to the restoration
A photo of the stables after restoration
The Stables today

In the 1860s, the Wembley site was officially handed over to the Sisters of Mercy who looked after the olive trees for over 100 years. The traditional olive harvest continued through this period and was restarted in 2020.

The century-old trees which are listed on the State Register of Heritage Places, have served as a connection to the site’s history.

An olive tree
One of the olive trees being harvested (left), the volunteers sifting the olives (top right) and the olives ready to be transported (bottom right)
Volunteers sifting through olives
Olives in a pile

What the oil will be used for

The olives will continue their life cycle as oil. A portion of the oil will be used by MercyCare as part of the candle and soap-making workshops which provide a pivotal step towards building enterprise opportunities for refugee women. Good Habit soap and Good Habit olive oil are sold to raise funds toward directly supporting refugees and people seeking asylum toward gaining meaningful long-term employment.

Hosted by MercyCare’s Multicultural Services team, the Good Habit brand of soaps and olive oil have been developed over the past few years as part of several small-scale experiments in an effort to help build livelihoods among refugees as well as develop new skills to help start their own enterprises.

Three bottles of olive oil
three women packaging bars of soap

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