How an outback olive oil landed on the tables of Sydney’s top restaurants

How an outback olive oil landed on the tables of Sydney’s top restaurants

An established olive grove in the centre of an outback city might not be what you expect to see.

But that’s exactly what you’ll find in Broken Hill.

It all started in 2002 when a group of locals decided to get together and make their own olive oil.

Gary Ferguson had long been looking for a place to plant olive trees as his interest in making oil grew.

“But [I] couldn’t find land where there was water available,” he said.

The town grove makes around 300-400 litres of oil most seasons.(Supplied: Gary Ferguson)

When Steve Flecknoe-Brown arrived in town, Mr Ferguson’s desire was realised.

“His suggestion was that we set up an olive grove locally — so I went and tapped him on the shoulder,” Mr Ferguson said.

The two men launched the Broken Hill Gourmet Products cooperative with three other locals. 

They planted a grove “in the heart of town” and harvested fruit from mature trees planted by mine workers in years past around town to make their oil.

The grove sits next to the train line that runs through Broken Hill.(ABC Broken Hill: Lily McCure)

The grove sits next to the town’s overpass, once part of a former mining lease.

Mr Ferguson said it was a desolate parcel of land before they rehabilitated the site.

 “Once upon a time it was a dust bowl. Not even weeds grew to any great extent,” he said.

“We planted the trees, did a lot of work and there it is.”

A community project

They decided to run the olive grove as a cooperative to bring people together and support the Broken Hill community.

Another member, Terry Barclay, who is a former exploration geologist, also saw the initiative as a unique opportunity. 

Mr Barclay was involved in the “heavy lifting” of olive production, from harvesting to pressing and bottling.

The olives are picked from the main grove as well as trees scattered around the town.(Supplied: Gary Ferguson)

He said it was a positive venture for the town and gave him something to enjoy outside his day-to-day life.

“We were generating some cash, taking some of the unemployed people [and giving them work],” he said.

“That’s why we called it a cooperative — it only works if as many people involved can contribute in some way.”

To begin with, they planted just over 1,000 trees in the grove, which made about 300-400 litres of olive oil per season.

They also pick and press olives from the town’s pre-existing trees and make separate oil batches with the residential fruit.

“There’s a lot of people around town that are quite happy for us to go and clean their trees up, take it off their hands, so they don’t have to rake them up and put them in the bin,” Mr Ferguson said.

The co-op has won multiple awards for their oil, including international competitions.(ABC Broken Hill: Lily McCure)

Their oil is mostly sold locally these days, but for a time they also had the attention of city foodies.

“For quite a few years we had a steady supply into Sydney,” Mr Ferguson said.

“Bill Granger had three restaurants in Sydney and he used to take pretty much all we could do off the grove and put it through his restaurants.”

Mr Ferguson said mastering oil making, from planting to getting a feel for the perfect time to pick and press the olives, had been “a very big learning curve”. 

“We have learnt a lot about how to make olive oil over the last 20 years,” he said.

“We pick our seasons, we follow the weather, we work by judgement.”


From small beginnings, the co-op has entered its oil in competitions, including placing in international awards.

The co-op’s picking and pressing process has been refined over time.(ABC Broken Hill: Lily McCure)

Mr Barclay said although the awards were “a buzz”, they weren’t the motivation behind the business.

“We want to be able to, in a way, promote Broken Hill,” he said. 

“It was just about trying to do something different — we weren’t looking for recognition.”

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