Walk through Stewart and Sarah MacPherson’s sprawling Karridale property, located 20 minutes south of Margaret River, and they’ll proudly point out their first olive tree, the blue gums they planted as saplings that are now towering windbreaks, and the once dilapidated shed-turned-guesthouse, a relic of the property’s former life as an ill-fated tobacco farm.
There’s no cutting-edge olive press, no shiny tractors and certainly no marketing team. Nothing to suggest this modest farm is actually an award-winning boutique olive farm.
“At first, everyone thought we were crazy to do this,” says Sarah of their decision to plant one of the first olive orchards in the southwest. “Many locals’ ancestors had worked so hard to clear the land of trees. They couldn’t understand why we’d plant them. It was a real step into the unknown.”
Luckily faith comes naturally to the couple. For more than 10 years they’ve served as Anglican priests at Bunbury’s St Boniface Cathedral.
“We were first introduced to olive trees while living for six months in Mojacar, Spain,” says Stewart. “Then, on a visit to Palestine, we saw these 1000-year-old trees. Their extraordinary character, their resilience, speaks to us. They can handle quite a lot of neglect while remaining forgiving.”
Inspired, they returned home to plant 10 of their property’s 85 hectares with 1400 Kalamata, Manzanillo, California Mission, Frantoio and California Queen olive trees.
The couple managed the watering, fertilising, pest control and pruning of their orchard. Each April, family members would fly in from Tasmania, Queensland and the UK to help. The olives would then be sent to Destiny Olives in Boyanup for pressing and bottling on a needs-only basis.
When Stewart underwent bypass surgery in 2007, the congregation pitched in to harvest the crop. “They helped us immensely,” says Stewart. “After that, we felt like the oil belonged to the church, so now all of the profits go back to it.”
Their Karridale Olive Farm oil won gold medals as well as the award for Best Boutique Oil of The Perth Royal Show for the last two years running.
“The wins are an incredible affirmation of what we’ve been doing,” says Stewart.
“The first time we were extremely pleased, but the second time we were stunned. It certainly suggested that we were doing something right.”
To what does Stewart attribute the success of the MacPherson’s olive oil? “Being 7km from Hamelin Bay and 10km from the Southern Ocean makes it a little bit cooler than Margaret River,” explains Stewart. “There’s also the black sand soils that add flavours of their own. Maybe even the pine trees on the property make a difference.”
“We aren’t able to give them a large amount of water or fertiliser,” adds Sarah. “We just give our trees a lot of attention and select our olives and the time of picking very carefully. The yield is really low, but the quality is very high.”
The couple plan on spending their retirement living and working on the property full-time, producing thousands of litres instead of the current hundreds. Pickling table olives and even one day opening a farm door are also on the cards.
For now, Karridale Oil continues to be the holy anointing oil in the Diocese. Even non-believers would have to agree that this oil is nothing if not blessed. Or perhaps it’s we that are.
Karridale Olive Oil can be purchased at the Karridale Post Office Store or through the Bunbury St Boniface Cathedral by emailing [email protected].