I was born in Melbourne, but raised in the Western District of Victoria in a small town of less than 10,000 people. We lived out of town on a farmlet, not because my father was a farmer but because my mother had long held a dream of self-sufficiency and the view that children should have plenty of space to run around as they grow up. Given there are four children in my family, I suspect that the space to run around that my mother envisaged was able to be away from her at times!
We had livestock agisted on our property but we did not own any beyond mum’s poultry collection which included chickens, bantams and ducks and for a short time, a couple of turkeys. I think she would have liked to have had sheep as well, given her propensity for textile crafts and I thank her for my own interest and ability in those areas.
After completing secondary school, I moved to Melbourne to pursue further education opportunities, including a degree in Animal Science and Agricultural Science. Through various rented sharehousing arrangements, I plotted and planted vegie gardens, harvested produce from windowsills in apartments and eventually met and married my husband, Charles, and we settled down in the inner Northern suburbs.
Charles grew up in Melbourne when Glen Waverley was still considered country. His mother, Lucy, was a formidable woman, working and travelling Europe on her own in the 40s and 50s before returning to a career in State-sponsored education which saw her rise to the position of Headmistress at MacRobertson Girls’ School, as well as starting her own teachers’ union because she didn’t like what was on offer at the time. She also had a silly streak a mile wide, which Charles inherited because let’s be honest, who wants to be grown up if they don’t have to?
Charles’ father, Umberto, took over the family butcher business after his father passed away from gas poisoning which he sustained in WWI. “Bert” survived through Mussolini’s Fascist regime and suffered the difficulties of running a butcher shop through the rationing period associated with WWII. He emigrated to Melbourne in 1956 and met Lucy at a dance in Hawthorn. They were married in 1956 and although Bert was a qualified accountant in Italy, the Government of the time would not recognise his qualification, so he spent much of his working life driving trams or working in factories. As such, he was also the primary carer for Charles as he grew up, and was able to pass on his love of food and great cooking skills to Charles, a fact for which I am often grateful!
After ten years of city living, I was sick of not being able to see the horizon beyond the palings of the back fence and not seeing what the weather would be until it dumped on my head. I broached the topic of purchasing a farm with Charles and allowed free rein to my dreams of sheep and space and chickens and our dream house, built from strawbales. He considered the idea and, as a nod to his Italian heritage, he was keen to investigate growing olives. After careful consideration, we agreed that was the way to go and set about looking for our rural slice of heaven.
In 2007 we purchased a block of 32.4 hectares (80 acres) 150kms north of Melbourne and 45kms south east of Bendigo in Central Victoria. We named our new farm Apulia Grove in honour of Charles’ father, Umberto, who hailed from Lecce, in the Puglia region of Italy (the heel of the boot). Two weeks after we settled, we picked our first ever crop of olives and it’s been a steep learning curve ever since!