I killed baby olive trees! On purpose!

 

Many years ago, while I was between jobs, (the factory had moved its operation overseas where they could manufacture shoes cheaper and so make more profit for themselves), I wore out my sneakers dropping off applications and resumes, even applying for volunteer work at libraries, thrift shops and meals-on-wheels. Nobody wanted me. I eventually came across a tiny office with a sign, “Conservation Australia” with a notice that volunteers were wanted. In I went.

The information seemed exciting, going around the country in groups helping out farmers etc. Then I spoke to a woman who said only the younger people did that and if I signed up I would join an older group, called the “Green Reserve” who only did day trips once or twice a week. I decided anything was better than nothing and signed up. I was told the group meets outside the office at 8am and the van takes them where they need to go. Well, I missed the first day because the bus was late!

On the second day, I was there on time, had my name ticked off as I climbed into the van and off we went. Arriving at a section of hillside an hour or so later, we learned that we were to be clearing away plants that were not native to Australia. There were three men in the group as well as the team leader, and five of us women. The men were given small hatchets and pruning saws, while we women were given small buckets of glyphosate and paint brushes. We followed the men as they located artichokes and baby olive trees which we then hacked off low to the ground and the stumps painted with the glyphosate to ensure their deaths.

I was appalled! We were cutting down perfectly useful trees, Olive trees, simply because they weren’t native to Australia! While down in the city there were olive groves everywhere and every Italian or Greek home owner had at least one olive tree on their own property. I asked about this and was told wild areas were to be conserved with only native plants. Huh! Anyway, we continued for a few hours with a lunch break and a rest in between the hacking and killing.

One time were taken to a section of Torrens Island which was an aboriginal sacred site and were told to walk carefully, do not disturb any rocks or move things out of our way and not to pick up anything we might think might be a nice souvenir. Yet we had to still remove unwanted plants and I didn’t see how we could do that without disturbing anything, I remember we spent a lot of that day just watching out for snakes! Not much work got done.

A more fun day was the time we went out to a farm and planted windbreak trees and threw baby reeds into the edges of a dam where they would settle in the mud and grow. The farmer barbecued sausages and chops for all of us and allowed us to use the toilets. Most places we went to were in the middle of nowhere and didn’t have facilities so if we needed to go we were driven to the nearest town to use the public facilities. We also planted trees and shrubs on the banks of the River Torrens in the city limits one week and had to put those little plastic guards around them. Another fun day as there was a bakery and cafe close by.

Another time we wandered along the edges of a busy highway pulling weeds and picking up garbage. I felt like we should all be singing some kind of Chain Gang song and soon after I discovered that a local supermarket was hiring casual workers for the Christmas season, so I applied and got the job. “Working in a Shop” apparently is something little girls dream of doing, but I never had and had always promised myself I never would, but here I was learning how to man a checkout, pack groceries into bags AND talk to the customers. I actually got very good at it and stuck with it for twelve years before retiring.

Comments

  1. What an interesting experience! You weren't even a "killer for hire." You were a "killer for free," since you volunteered. Too bad you couldn't dig up your own little olive trees to take home and raise.

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    1. Val; digging one up to rescue it would have seen me booted out I think!

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  2. Sigh. Killing trees as a volunteer? Echoing Val about taking them home instead.

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    1. Elephant's Child; I didn't do it for very long, and there were good parts, like planting windbreaks, days where we didn't kill any plants except weeds.

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  3. Are you sure that the reason for cutting down perfectly useful olive trees was because they weren’t native to Australia?? Surely there was enough barren space in South Australia to plant new trees, without having to cut down extant trees!!

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    1. Hels; they were seedlings growing where they'd been dropped as seeds by birds mostly in Conservation areas where the people wanted only native Australian plants.

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  4. Oh I can believe that, getting rid of nonnative trees and shrubs. Something different to do I expect.
    Glad you found another job you ended up liking, nothing wrong with being a checkout chick R.

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    1. Margaret D; I didn't much enjoy the weeding out job, though the people in my group were nice. The checkout job was okay for something I wouldn't have chosen unless desperate, I still had two kids at home and rent to pay.

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  5. It sounds like hard work, but I understand why they'd want to rid the wild landscape of nonnative plants. I had no idea olive trees could become invasive. As Val said, it's too bad you couldn't transplant them!

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    1. Steve Reed; not the entire wild landscape, just the Conservation parks. The trees become invasive when birds eat the fruit and drop the seeds far away. Like many other plants that become invasive in similar manner. The Australian climate is an excellent environment for olive trees.

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  6. I can see both sides of the argument but are olive trees particularly invasive? I wouldn't have thought so. It certainly seems like an interesting experience.
    I didn't know you worked at supermarkets for so long. There is one man at our local Coles who has been there for at least two decades. He clearly has no managerial ambitions and he is such a nice guy. It's nice to see people so content in their work, even though because of the area, he must have faced some challenging people in his time.

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    1. Andrew; they are somewhat invasive with seeds being dropped by the birds that eat the fruit, but less so than things that have windblown seeds, such as Salvation Jane perhaps. I have heard of some people staying in a supermarket job for decades, one woman I worked with had been at Coles since leaving school, and I didn't mind the job so much, but there were things that bothered me, certain self-serving people, the insistence on having cut flowers right next to the twelve-items-or-less, even after I mentioned my allergies. I had no interest in any managerial position either.

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  7. We have similar "Tree pulling events" here. It is actually meaningful when goats and sheep no longer graze extensively, and heathered stretches have to be conserved. We do not use glyphosphate though. I think I would have stayed in the tree pulling business and hoped for an emplouyment there,. I worked as a checkout chick once, and hated it.

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    1. Charlotte; I couldn't have stayed with them, it was volunteer work, so there was no pay, and I needed a paying job with kids at home still and having to pay rent. Goats would be good on hillsides to eat the blackberries we also had to remove (kill), but they would also eat everything else that needs to be conserved.

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  8. If the olive trees grew from seeds dropped by birds, surely that would have been a legitimate reason for them to remain?Still, you can't argue with the authorities and they wanted the job done properly.

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    1. jabblog; in some areas, no one cared about random trees growing, but in conservation parks and other natural native wetlands areas, they shouldn't be there, so we had the job of cutting and removing.

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  9. Why not save the trees, removing them from the site and then selling them for a little profit to people elsewhere who may have wanted an olive tree?
    And, yes, how do you dig up non-native plants at an aboriginal site and not disturb the site?
    Still, sounds like an interesting time.

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    1. Bob; we weren't digging up any of the trees, just cutting and painting the stump with glyphosate to kill it. Digging would disturn more of the natural native environment that the conservationists were trying to save. It was mostly fun while it lasted, but I got a paying job after about 3-4 months and that was better, I needed the money.

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  10. We have non-native hunts around here. But our boogie bushes are wild grape and the dreaded bush honeysuckle. The wild grape is a climbing vine that will completely cover a tree and kill it. Bush honeysuckle sends out poison in its roots to kill nearby plants.

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    1. Mike; a bit like the kudzu you have that takes over quickly! We have similar problems with wild blackberry and a weed called Salvation Jane.

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  11. Replies
    1. Dora; You mean the trees? They were growing where they shouldn't be.

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  12. I understand. We have some non-native stuff here that is going to eventually destroy our ecosystem if we can't get it under control.

    I'm glad you had something to do and eventually found paid work.

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    1. messymimi; thinking back, I still wish the shoe factory hadn't closed. I loved that job and would still be there now if I could.

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  13. I kinda understand, just think of the Toads that roam your country´s North - no idea, though, if olive trees are that dangerous? Sad.
    But, yes, better that than nothing! And at least some great experiences and memories, too!

    When I was younger I always wondered how the cash-out ladies (there were no men back then) managed to hack in the correct price for each and every item you bought - is there a trick or "just" perfect memory? These days with scanning... self-check-out...

    Same with when you want to drive somewhere. Navi and gps. I used paper-maps!!!!
    Soon all cars will not need a driver anymore... Here in Braunschweig they test that at the uni since... 10 years or such.

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    1. Iris; olive trees aren't dangerous, they just don't belong in nature reserves and conservation parks. The memories from that time are mostly forgotten.
      I'm not sure about checkout ladies of long ago, but when I worked most things had a bar code which was read by the scanner, fresh produce also had barcode stickers, on things like apples etc, but they also had a code number that we could ebter id we remembered it or wanted to look it up. I femember memorising almost all of them so when the fruit or vegetable was on the scale I just entered the code number. For instance bananas were coded number 1, so when a bunch of bananas was on the scale I just pressed number 1 and the scale would register the weight and price. These days the system is changed and I wouldn't want to habve to relearn everything.
      I like paper maps, I like to follow along and see just where we are. I do it with bus timetables, they have a map on the back folded section and if I am going somewhere new I will follow along to see exactly where it takes me.

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  14. "ebter id"?? duh! that should be "enter if"

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  15. In California the eucalyptus tree has made Calif. home. there are 75 varieties of this aggressive tree. It was brought over from your stretch of ground by mission padres to provide wood for building missions. It didn't work. The wood of the tree is oil rich which is like a candle to wild fires. It is used for fences and other projects.

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    1. Susan Kane; if only the mission padres had known that about the wood, they wouldn't have brought them to your country. They are a danger in fire season for sure.

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