The first grapevines in Western Australia were planted near Fremantle soon after the first colonists arrived in 1829. By 1832, Thomas Waters of Olive Farm near Guildford was selling wine by the gallon – the first Western Australian wine. While it has not operated continuously as a commercial vineyard, Olive Farm Wines was revived in 1933 when the property was purchased by Yugoslavian immigrant Ivan Yurisich. The winery is still operated by his descendants – the fourth generation of the family – using 100% fruit from the Swan Valley region.
Thomas Waters has been described as a botanist, but other accounts from the 1830s called him a gardener and plant collector. Before emigrating to Western Australia, he had spent time in South Africa obtaining plants for a nurseryman in London.
Waters arrived in the colony with a number of plants including olive trees and grapevine cuttings. The story that these were obtained in South Africa on the way to Australia may or may not be true. The ship he sailed on, the Caroline, certainly called at Rio de Janeiro during the voyage. It is not known whether it also visited South Africa, so the origin of Waters’s vines remains unclear. Also aboard the Caroline were three of the Henty brothers, who became the first white settlers in Victoria in 1834.
The land Thomas Waters took up in South Guildford had a frontage to the Swan River. He planted a vegetable garden as well as olives and vines at what became Olive Farm and constructed an underground cellar, which remains today. His market garden, the first in the colony, supplied markets in Perth. By 1843 he had an ‘extensive vineyard on the Middle Swan’. The samples of wine he presented to the Agricultural Society in September of that year were described as very good.
The Heritage Council of Western Australia prepared an extensive account of Waters’ operations in the process of compiling a heritage assessment on the original cellar. It related that in 1848 Waters’s property was inspected by the Vineyard Society for the purposes of a report to consider forming a Vineyard Company. The report described the property as follows:
A small block of land…..well known as Mr Waters’ Vineyard. This property contains about 100 (sic) statute acres of diversified soils and of which about 30 acres are enclosed by a substantial post-and-rail fence and ditch; it is already stocked with about 12,000 fruit-bearing vines of the Muscat and other approved varieties, varying in age from 3 to 18 years; there is also a large collection of other fruit trees, and about 6,000 vine plants in nursery beds. This desirable property is offered to the Society on lease for 20 or 50 years upon reasonable terms, and although it does not possess sufficient extent for the ultimate views of the proposed Company, yet doubtless it would prove highly beneficial as a preliminary vineyard, and is consequently deserving of attention.
Although vines had been established in New South Wales and Tasmania in the 1820s, Thomas Waters’ Olive Farm was one of Australia’s earliest commercial vineyards and produced what was probably the first Western Australian wine in commercial quantities. Other Swan Valley wine enterprises trace their origins back to these early days. The Sandalford vineyard was established in 1840. The first commercial vintage at Houghton was produced soon after Dr John Ferguson bought the property in 1859.
After Thomas Waters’ death in 1869, Olive Farm remained in the family until 1920, then changed hands a number of times. It was resurrected as a working vineyard after being purchased by Yurisich in 1933.