When Perry was born, not so tiny, but wrinkled and with ‘overcooked’ skin peeling off, we were told to use olive oil to moisturise his lovely little body. We anointed him with olive oil from my cousin Sam’s farm outside Rushworth. Single pressed oil harvested from a Perry farm, that is. Every 2 or 3 years Al and I manage to join in the little harvest of the olives. I say little as the groves are less than a hobby, they simply happen to be there, on Sam’s farm, some couple of hundred trees. When the place that presses the olives can fit these olives in, then the family has a day of harvest.

This weekend was the harvest, and it was scanty indeed. It took 8 of us only a couple of hours, and the pickings were very lean compared to other years, where the branches were heavy with fruit and we filled the little white buckets tied around our necks quickly, dumping them into big blue butchers tubs in the back of the ute and going back for more. Some years it would take 6 of us half an hour to divest a single tree of it’s fruit.

Slim pickings aside, the little harvest is the stuff of soul comfort, those days that make your heart sing (and zing) with content at the sweet and the simple pleasures of life. Sam’s farm is nestled in a corner between the Waranga Basin and the high banks at the very beginning of the irrigation channel mentioned in my memoir piece Wide Brown Land. As you come in the gate of the farm off the Tat Road, you pass a very askew weatherboard cottage just waiting to fall over one day with a great sigh. The cottage precedes the building of the Basin. It used to house a family of eight, and it then served as a wine shanty catering to the labourers during the construction of the Basin. In front of this very askew building is a sunken circle of stone which now suits the purposes of perfect fire place for a bonfire, but which was once a well.

The olive harvest is a casual, meandering affair, where you can wander singly, in a newly loved up pair, or a chattering group, searching for winning trees bearing a decent load of bounty. The bucolic surrounds sooth frazzled nerves. There are dogs, children, family, conversation of all flavours, laughter and olives, which are sent the very next morning to be pressed and transformed into Perry olive oil, perfect for anointing a newborn of that name, and just as wonderful with balsamic vinegar and some good bread.

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