Family tradition runs deep in olive grove

Michael Bradica picking olives by hand.
Michael Bradica picking olives by hand. Contributed

THE story of how the Bradica family started an olive grove in rural New South Wales extends over many years.

In the Central European community Kris Bradica lived as a child, there were thriving groves that had trees that were up to 2000 years old and it was a family tradition to make pickled olives and oil.

The area is now known as Croatia and runs along the Adriatic Sea.

After the Second World War, his family fled from the communist regime to Italy as refugees.

Later, in 1958 when Kris was 13, his family chose to immigrate to Australia and settled in Newcastle, New South Wales.

Kris never forgot the taste of the olives, and even though he established and was running a successful industrial-based business in Newcastle, when the opportunity came up to buy a farm suitable for olives he didn't baulk at the opportunity.

That was 21 years ago.

The business, Eden Valley Olives, is now set to go under the hammer at the end of this month as Kris has finally chosen to retire.

Still with a thick accent, he recalled the 20 years he spent transforming Eden Valley, which was formerly a sheep and cattle property, to a grove boasting 15,000 trees.

"The reason we came into this area was because of the climate,” he said.

"The olives need chilling in the winter, and sunshine through the summer.

"That's why we came here, because temperatures drop to -5 degrees in the wintertime.”

Kris said he was "extremely proud” of the property and said a lot of hard work had gone into the land.

As a family Kris, his wife Gay and children Peter, Michael and Katrina all worked on getting the farm up and running.

This started with hand-planting each tree.

"We ripped the ground two metres wide, and dug 900 millimetres deep and then we cultivated the soil.

"We then measured them so they were all in a straight line, then hand planted them all.

"We put a lot of work in and everything is done first class.”

The property also runs cattle, and has land used for broadacre farming.

"When we first started we had some trouble with the native animals, cockatoos, white galahs and kangaroos,” he said.

"They used to damage the trees. But now they aren't a problem.”

Kris said there was not a great deal of information available about growing olives in Australia, and they had to do a lot of "trial and error”.

"We did a lot of scientific work as well,” he said.

Harvesting the olives starts in April and takes about two-and-a-half months.

This is the busy time.

Contractors are brought in, and the on-site extraction plant will run 24 hours a day to get the work done.

"We have an average production of 35 kilograms of olives per tree dry-land growing,” he said.

"We produce up to 60,000 litres of extra-virgin olive oil.”

The olives used for pickling are all hand-picked, and the family has produced up to 50 tonnes per season.

Kris said their olives had kept the rich flavour his family grew to love.

"We treat them exactly the same as how we did in Croatia. We use my grandma's recipe. It's a 1000-year-old recipe.

"Our olives are treated naturally, they are not treated with any chemicals, and they are not sprayed with chemicals.”

The products sold well on the Australian market and were also exported to China.

"The Australian olive oil is actually one of the best oils in the world,” he said.

When describing his 20 years growing olives, Kris said they had more satisfaction than "headaches”.

"I am just sorry I ran out of time and I have to sell it,” he said.

"But I need to retire, I have been working for a long time.

"It will be a lucky person who gets it, all the hard work is done.

"All it needs now is harvesting, selling and making money.”

In his retirement Kris said he would spend time fishing and travelling back to Croatia where he still owned some properties.

Fast facts

Eden Valley is 577ha and situated 65km south-east of Moree.

The auction will take place on September 30 at 10.30 am at Level 17, 135 King St, Sydney

Call agent Tim Lyne on 0428 657 174 for more information.

Topics:  family farm

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