Life On The Job

Horticulturalist & Business Owner - Robert McGavin, CEO Cobram Estate [Largest Olive Oil Supplier in Australia] (1963 - )

Rob McGavin
(Source: Border Mail)

Rob McGavin, who once a humble farmer with an idea to grow olives and produce oil, is now the largest supplier of olive oil to Australia as well as an international award winning olive oil producer, supplying globally. His company Boundary Bend owns 6200 hectares of fully irrigated olive groves, which houses 2.4 million trees, and has 105 full-time employees across seven sites in Victoria. The company owns the award-winning brand Cobram Estate, which distributes extra virgin olive oil throughout Australia.

Boundary Bend and Cobram Estate aren’t one man teams, we’re very lucky to have the incredible teams that we do,” he said. “I always say, no one’s got all the good ideas, and every idea can be better with input from others.”
He said it’s about employing the right people, and letting them do their job without stepping in and telling them what to do. “Once you start thinking for people, they’ll stop thinking for themselves.


Here are the three Australian brands....

BBL                                                   Cobram Estate                            Red Island

Cobram Estate Oil
(Source: Business Insider)

Celebrating Cobram Estate by RASNSW

Watch this video on YouTube to see Rob tell us about his story!



Rob McGavin is originally from a cattle and sheep farm near Barcaldine in Western Queensland. Rob recalls an early childhood like any other in the bush, until it was turned upside down when his mother Muriel died of breast cancer, aged 39. “We knew she was sick, but we didn’t know it was terminal,” Rob explains over a cuppa. “She and Dad decided it was best we didn’t know because of the anxiety it would create. So we just thought she was in hospital for a little bit, and then Dad came in one morning and said she had died.” Rob was eight, brother Tim was six and sister Sue was 10.


Rob McGavin (second from left) with his brother Tim, sister Sue and father Bob at Jubilee Park, Qld
(Source: Nathan Dyer)

That was a huge shock, and it was awfully tough, but probably tougher on Dad than anyone,” Rob says, explaining how his father buried himself in work to cope with the loss. “Instead of going to bed,
he’d go down to the shed to organise the ute and sharpen the chainsaw and get stuff ready for the next day. He just threw himself into work
.” As their father toiled through his grief, the siblings became
focused on pleasing him. “Often we’d muster a paddock in the morning, then get on the bus and go to school, and we’d come home and be taking away sheep in the dark,” Rob says. “We always wanted to
please him, out of respect

The community rallied to support the young family, with a school bus organised for the McGavin children and teachers offering to make their lunches and wash their uniforms. Family went above and beyond. Along with his maternal grandfather, Harry Smith, who would travel from Brisbane to spend weeks at a time helping out, their uncle Selwyn and aunty Judy Smith were an unwavering support. “They swapped their station, which was over 100 kilometres away, for Pegasus next-door to us, and moved there to support us kids and Dad, and I can never, ever be more thankful for that,” Rob says.

Although memories of his mother have faded with time, Rob says her spirit has always remained. “Mum was very religious, and just a beautiful soul,” he says quietly. “Her love was unconditional for everyone, and from her I’ve learnt that being nice to people is the greatest way to get the best outcome.”


By the time Rob was sent off to boarding school in Brisbane he had resilience and a work ethic beyond his years. At school he learnt about the outside world, and it was there, in his final year at Churchie, that he heard about Geelong’s Marcus Oldham College and set his mind on one day attending.


First, though, there was a year back home working side by-side with his father and then a two-year stint in the Kimberley working for family friends Bruce and Sandy Gray, who were managing Liveringa Station, riding barely broken horses from dawn to dusk and chasing scrub bulls alongside good mate Willie Gray.

Breaking in a horse
Breaking in a horse on Jubilee Park in 1988
(Source: Nathan Dyer)

Rob enrolled at Marcus Oldham when he returned to Jubilee Park, but had to wait another year to attend. The delay would turn out to be a blessing. During that year he travelled Europe with the Outback Barbarians, playing curtain-raisers to the Wallabies, and did his first business deal, buying 390 Brahman cattle for $90,000 – two-thirds of which he borrowed – and selling them a year later at a 50 percent profit. He also met his future wife, Kate Muller, while playing rugby at Muttaburra. “She was a governess, first year out of school, and I was 23,” Rob recalls. “I came off the rugby field after playing this mob of Kiwi shearers who were tough as buggery and I saw the most stunning woman and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” Rob says with a grin. The romance quickly blossomed but was put on hold for Kate to attend university in Armidale and Rob to head to Geelong.

By the time he arrived at Marcus Oldham, Rob had his first big business idea: Australian wine. “During the rugby trip with the Barbarians everyone was drinking Australian wine,” he says. “And I just kept thinking when I went to Marcus, there’s got to be money in wine.”

After graduating from Marcus Oldham in 1993, Rob McGavin decided to pursue a career in horticulture, and purchased a small vineyard in the Riverland of South Australia.

"Marcus Oldham set up a really good foundation, and has really charged my entrepreneurial spirit."
- Rob McGavin, Boundary Bend
[his company]

Marcus Oldham

He said completing an agribusiness course at Marcus Oldham helped to develop his skill set. “I’ve said this many times, but Marcus Oldham really changed my life,” he said. “You don’t really say that about a lot of things, but it really was a life changing experience.” He said it gave him the confidence to accomplish whatever he put his mind to. “It opened my eyes to so many entrepreneurial opportunities, and just gave me a lot of confidence,” he said. “It’s a motivating place to attend, there are a lot of other very serious and motivating students who have the same interests as you.” He said it taught him the general principles of business. “It’s set up a really good foundation, and has really charged my entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. “There’s no use having ideas, but not being able to execute them because you don’t know the basics.”

Employment & Training

For the first six years after leaving high school, he worked in the Kimberley, WA, on stations mustering, fencing, yard building, horse breaking, crutching and shearing.

at Gate
(Source: Nathan Dyer)

Studying agribusiness gave him the inspiration to make the idea [of wine making] a reality and, the following year, he and Tim convinced their father to use Jubilee Park as security to buy a 14ha vineyard near Paringa, in the South Australian Riverland. Rob and Kate married soon afterwards, and over the next 10 years the brothers rolled out drip irrigation, planted new vines and expanded their holdings to 240ha. At the same time, the brothers were travelling back and forth to Jubilee Park to help their father, who had been diagnosed with bone cancer. Despite the illness, Rob says his old man remained defiant to the end. “It was a very painful terminal cancer and he was given two years to live, but he said, ‘You bastards won’t tell me when I’m going to die’,” Rob says. “He went for 12 years of six weeks on/six weeks off chemotherapy and radiotherapy and he had a morphine syringe driver in his pocket for the pain.” Bob McGavin died aged 60 in 2001.

When the McGavins sold the majority of their vineyard in 2003, Rob invested his share of the profits in his next idea: Australian olives. Although the wine venture was mostly about money, Rob wanted to farm something that would make people healthier. “And no food comes close to olive oil in the prevention of chronic disease because of the level and complexity of the antioxidants it contains,” he says.

Over three years, Rob and his business partner Paul Riordan raised $15 million, mostly from family and friends, to fund 200ha of olive tree plantings at Boundary Bend, in northern Victoria. They researched everything there was to know about olives, pioneered mechanical harvesting, built processing plants and became the most efficient producers of extra virgin olive oil in the country, at one stage producing 25% of the nation’s olive oil from just 2.5% of the country’s trees.

In 2007, they took on a contract to manage 2700ha of trees owned by managed investment scheme Timbercorp. “At the time Timbercorp had 20% of Australia’s olives and they were producing about 3% of the nation’s olive oil, so they asked us to come and manage for them,” Rob says. When Timbercorp collapsed in 2009, the business partners were left with no option but to keep farming the trees in the hope of recovering the hundreds of thousands owed in unpaid management fees. Two years later, after an intense and often aggressive period of corporate negotiations, Boundary Bend raised another $20 million and bought out all 6500ha of Timbercorp’s plantations and set about rebuilding the failed agribusiness.

Today, Boundary Bend has an annual turnover of more than $100 million, manages 6500ha of Australia’s plantations – totalling 2.5 million trees, about 19% of the nation’s olive plantings – and produces more than 65% of the country’s olive oil. Along with being the world’s most efficient processor, the company is recognised as producing some of the world’s healthiest extra virgin olive oil, consistently taking out Best in Class awards at the prestigious New York International Olive Oil Competition.

YouTube: Cobram Estate | Hojiblanca and Picual Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Asked if he ever considered giving up, Rob’s reply is emphatic. “Never, ever,” he says. “Because I had all my friends’ and family’s money in it, and I knew this was going to be an amazing business, because the product quality was brilliant, the cost of production was amazing, it was just that a lot things had gone wrong. In hindsight, these amazing people backed two guys to achieve something when we didn’t even know what we didn’t know about olives, and they took a big risk. I am forever grateful for the loyalty shown by those investors.”

Tim McGavin says his brother’s success is well deserved and has a lot to do with his balance of drive and empathy. “Rob’s always been very competitive, and he’s always had a sense of duty, and a great moral compass,” Tim says. “And he has a unique willingness to walk away from something no matter how good it is if it’s compromising what he believes in.”

According to Selwyn Smith, Rob has always been inquisitive. “Right from a young age, he always wanted to try to work things out,” he says. “He always asked a lot of questions of his father and others when he was a kid and I think that’s a pretty good sign.” Selwyn says despite the setbacks in his life, Rob has always shown kindness to others. “He’s just a really good person and I’m pretty proud to call him my nephew.”

First oil
The first oil of the season comes off the press
(Source: Business Insider)

Experiences & Opportunities

It’s been years since the company was established, and Mr McGavin said his role has changed dramatically. Day to day, my role is exploring opportunities for new or existing businesses, and talking to staff based in Australia and overseas, trying to help them with problem solving, or strategies, or whatever,” Mr McGavin said.

A big part of my time is talking to influences about why they should consume olive oil, and what we do at Cobram that’s different.”

He said a big part of his job is educating people. I would say that probably a quarter of my time is spent trying to educate anyone who’ll listen about why they should cook with extra virgin olive oil, why it’s better for their health, why it tastes better, and so on,” he said. Once they’re educated, they’ll become fans forever, and that’s a big part of the brand.”

He said given the story is so real, it’s an easy one to tell. We’re pretty lucky because we’re not selling sugary drinks or fatty chips, or anything like that, we’re selling a fantastic product.”

Rob has no doubt his bush upbringing has played a large part in his success, and it’s something he and Kate hope their own sons, Robbie, Lachie and Jock, will be able to benefit from growing up on the 2400ha sheep, cattle and cropping property Poligolet, 100km west of Geelong, which the family calls home. “The advantage that kids get when they’re brought up on the land is the practical skills and knowledge and intuition to be able to do things and solve problems,” Rob says, as sunset paints the sky red over Jubilee Park. “And if you combine that with education and having a bit of a go, gee that’s powerful."

[The majority of this story is a transcript from Stockland - the Man behind the Olive Tree]


Did You Know?

McGavin helped pioneer mechanical harvesting in Australia and as a result, has made the industry viable.

“We’re picking the olives for 10 cents a kilo, but if we were doing it the traditional way it would be $1 per kilo,” he said

The company produced 15 peer-reviewed research papers focused on the challenges they faced to develop a competitive advantage “not because we’re mad about doing it or like spending money – it’s just purely to solve a problem”.

“The whole thing’s been trial and terror to get there,” McGavin joked.

The surprising aspect is his willingness to share his findings with others in Australia. Some of the research, such as best before dates, has been picked up globally to set food industry benchmarks.

“A lot of people in other industries in leading positions can’t believe how open we are with information, but you can’t be an industry by yourself,” he said.

“We felt that if we can’t share our technology with other people and still be way in front of the game because of the next thing we’re working on, then we should give up. So we haven’t felt pressurised to go ‘let’s be precious’.”

The turning point for McGavin came in 2006, when BBL bought Cobram Estate, already an established brand with a strong supermarket presence, because, as he explained “we saw that we were big enough and it was almost like the tail wagging the dog”.

“We needed to take control of our destiny.”

The past nine years have seen McGavin reshape the local industry with the Cobram and Red Island olive oil brands. As well as being stocked in more than 1,500 supermarkets, the oils are exported to New Zealand, USA, Canada, China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The company runs two of the world’s top 10 olive oil processing plants, crushing 75,000 tonnes of olives in 2013 to produce around 13.6 million litres of oil.

Then there’s a 9.2 hectare warehouse and bottle factory on Melbourne’s western fringe and a specialist nursery that suppliers other growers – the payoff from the early research into the best varieties to grown locally.

There are 100 permanent employees and 350 full-time equivalents and revenue now tops $100 million annually.
(Source: BusinessInsider)


Cobram Estate

Cobram Estate
Red Island

Red Island
Olive Oil Times
6 October 2010

Olive Oil Times
Oil Man by Nathan Dyer [PDF]

Oil Man


YouTube: The Story of Cobram Estate


YouTube: First Harvest - Cobram Estate


YouTube: Rob McGavin explains why you should buy Australian.


YouTube: Rob McGavin explains the differences between Olive Oil & Extra Virgin Olive Oil



YouTube: Cobram Estate on The Morning Show on Channel 7






Tasting Extra Virgin Oil: "Oils ain't Oils!"

PrimaryPrimary MiddleMiddle  High SchoolSecondary

Personal and social capabilityAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

NumeracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Numeracy

CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking

Cooperative LearningCooperative Learning Activity




Instructions for Teachers

You are to buy 4 - 5 different extra virgin olive oils from the supermarket. You could buy one oil that is just Olive Oil [not extra virgin].

You need to buy small drinking cups/wine tasting cups for each student. Label each cup A- E and label the corresponding oils.

Buy enough Granny Smith apples and slice them thinly to refresh each student's palate after tasting an oil.


Student Worksheets - Local Copies: Part 1; Part 2


1. In groups of 4 students, you are going to blind taste olive oil. Firstly, watch the following video to see how to taste olive oil.

Cobram Estate | How to taste Extra Virgin Olive Oil

As you complete the next part of this activity, fill in the form provided - Local Copy: Part 2.

2. Pour.
First, pour a tablespoon or two of oil labelled A into a stemless wineglass.

3. Swirl.
Cup the glass in your hands and swirl the oil gently to release aromas.

4. Breathe.
Stick your nose in the glass and inhale deeply.

5. Slurp.
Slurp a mouthful of oil while inhaling noisily, just as your mother taught you not to eat soup. Drawing air in heightens the flavour. Then, breathe out through your nose.

6. Swallow.
Swallow while concentrating on the flavour.

7. Think about it.
Consider quietly carefully first the general categories (fruitiness, pungency, bitterness), and then expand from there. Write down your observations, and then compare with your group.

8. Cleanse.
Refresh your palate between oils with a thin slice of Granny Smith apple or a cube of plain bread.

9. Repeat to E!

[Material sourced from Eataly]

10. Table to be filled in:

Oil Colour

Deep, yellow, some green

Mouth Feel

Bitterness on tongue

Delicate, Light, Medium, Sage, Lemongrass, Fresh cut grass, Intense
[More burn in the throat - the more antioxidants and the better the olive oil]

Fruity, bitter, herbaceous, buttery, grassy, peppery, banana, greasy, winery, vinegar, sweet, almond

Defective olive oil flavours: rancid, banana, must, dirt, mould, vinegar, fermented olives
Like - Yes/No


11. Comment: Which olive oil was the best in your opinion? Why? Give reasons.

12. Which olive oil tasted the worst in your opinion? Give reasons.

13. Data.

Collect the best and the worst tasting from your group and then from the class. Tally up the results of your survey.

Look at the labels of the oils - is there any "claim to fame" on the bottles? [Gold medals etc]. Are there any Australian olive oils amongst the group? How did it go?

What is the price comparison? Which olive oil is the best value for money?

Do you use this olive oil at home?

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