Feature Articles

Where would we bee without honey?

Lynne Mowbray shares a childhood interest with Ms Daisy Green as they talk about bees and life.

Daisy Green with her bee boxes

As winter draws to a close, the colours, smells and sounds of spring, breathe a sense of freshness and new beginnings back into life.
The trees and flowers start to blossom and insects begin to re-appear, yet none of them are more important to us, than the honey bee.
My interest in these amazing little creatures, led me to meet a lovely elderly lady, 86-year-old Daisy Green, who has a family history of beekeeping.
Ms Green greeted me at the front door of her Palmers Island home, where she has lived all her life.
She invited me in and as we walked down the hallway, she paused to show me a very old framed certificate hanging on the wall.
“This was my grandfather, George Green,” she said.
She read out the details on the award.
“Department of Agriculture, New South Wales, National Prizes 1890 – Best managed Bee Farm …. 100 Hives and over – in any part of the colony. First Prize £15 awarded to Mr Geo Green, Palmers Channel, Clarence River.”
Ms Green showed me a photo of her grandparents on the wall beside the certificate.
“That’s George’s wife Emily Green [nee Marchant], my grandmother.
“Emily found a swarm of bees and that’s how George got started.
“They had seven children and the bee’s [honey] helped feed the family.”
Ms Green told stories of a by-gone era, as she flipped through very old albums of news clippings and old family photographs, spread out on the kitchen table. She pointed to a photo of a bees wax display (a by-product of bee keeping), which her grandfather also used to exhibit at agricultural shows.
Ms Green’s stories continued as we walked outside and into the paddock next door.
“Honey was always a staple [food source] back in the early days – most families had a few hives.”
Her father John followed in his father’s footsteps, taking an interest in bees, and her brother Jack also carried
on the tradition and moved his hives around the valley, chasing nectar and pollen.
“Up until about 20 years ago we had around 200 hives –but I’ve only got about a dozen [hives] now and a family friend helps me out with them.”
As we entered an old, run down wooden barn, Ms Green pointed out an old kerosene tin up in the loft. She asked me if I could climb up the ladder and get it for her, as she was not quite up to climbing ladders these days.
We laughed as I gingerly retrieved it. I remembered the old kerosene tins, from my childhood.
Ms Green continued, “Years ago we use to send our honey to Capilano [where it would be packaged and sold] in Brisbane and before that dad used to send the honey down on the train to Sydney, in the kerosene tins.


“Back in those days every thing was done by hand, there were no fork lift trucks, it was heavy work, as a kerosene tin would hold 60 pounds [just over 27kg] of honey.”
She pointed out a relatively new honey extractor, into which the frames of honeycomb are placed to extract the honey.
I told her that my father used to use an old 44 gallon drum standing on its end, into which he’d place a couple of frames of honey held by a cradle with a handle attached, which, when he turned it, would spin the frames around, extracting the honey into the drum.
We left the shed and headed over to where the hives were.
“I hope you’re not allergic to bees,” she said.
I told her that I used to be allergic as a child, but a friend of mine who was a professional beekeeper had told me that bees can sense fear and they don’t usually sting you unless they sense fear or danger – to which she agreed.
I asked Ms Green what sort of nectar and pollen her bees produce honey from.
“Down here [Palmers Island] it’s usually tea tree or bottlebrush, which is nicer.”
Ms Green’s story is just one of many that could be told by the older, long standing residents from around the valley.
There are many recreational apiarists in the area; however, there are only around five commercial beekeepers in the Clarence Valley, who will travel up to 2,000 kilometres chasing the flower blossom and nectar.
According to apiarist Steve Herd, most beekeepers are the best environmentalists, as the sustainability of their industry depends on it.
In the last 20 years beekeeping has become a lot harder due to loss of resources, disease, pests, regulation, vandalism, bushfires, drought and widespread use of chemicals.
Australia is the only country in the world that has not got varroa mite (a parasite that feeds on the blood of a bee) spreading a virus through the hive and causing massive colony (bee) losses. Other countries have to use chemicals to control the mite, which makes Australian honey greatly sought after, as it’s the only country that can produce clean organic honey.
It appears that beekeeping is a dying art, according to Mr Herd; with the average age of 58 for a beekeeper, there’s not enough young people getting into the industry.
“It’s hard work, but very rewarding,” he said.
“There is a lot of misconception about bees – so much more needs to be known.
“I believe we need more education about bees.”

Some people believe that Professor Albert Einstein, the learned scientist, once calculated that if all bees disappeared off the earth, four years later all humans would also have disappeared.
No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.