Olive issues baffle growers in Australia


SYDNEY — The quiet community of boutique wineries, upmarket guesthouses and fine restaurants of Lovedale in Australia’s Hunter Valley has been gripped by mysterious goings-on in its olive groves at night.

Around eight tons of olives disappeared without a trace from hundreds of trees on five properties in the popular tourist destination north of Sydney virtually overnight earlier this month, residents said Wednesday.

The first Quentin von Essen heard about it was when a neighbor telephoned to say that when pickers turned up to strip his 120 trees, they found them bare of olives.

“We promptly went and checked our larger grove of 400 trees around a boutique guest house,” von Essen told AFP. “All except two, which had a spotlight on them, had been stripped of their olives.”

What made the disappearance particularly strange was its thoroughness.

“It takes six people about three days to pick our groves and we don’t bother with the top of some of the higher trees, but these guys stripped the trees from top to bottom and they even took the olives off the ground.

“That I really just don’t understand — I find it incredibly bizarre, it’s like they just vacuumed them off the trees and vacuumed them off the ground at night,” he said.

Ruling out birds, bats and any other creature — “no droppings, you’d need a elluva lot of them and why would they leave two trees” — von Essen describes the event as “a bit extra-terrestrial.”

Pressed for the most likely explanation for a mystery which has been reported by national newspapers and broadcasters, von Essen says he can only guess that it was a “very, very large team” of thieves.

But even that left lots of unanswered questions about why nobody heard them or saw lights, and how the trees were stripped so thoroughly.

“How do you pick at night? You need lights, and nobody has seen any evidence of lights,” Jan Rees of Warraroong Estate, another victim, told The Australian newspaper.

“The police were called, came and looked and scratched their heads and are on the case and taking it seriously,” von Essen said.