‘I find beekeeping to be an incredible creative outlet,’ tells Scott Whitaker. ‘You need to have a deft hand and a great deal of flexibility. You’re playing the role of backyard scientist, builder, and inventor.’
His unusual career change from artist and gallery owner to beekeeper came about soon after he and his wife, artist Allyson Reynolds, relocated their young family to the rolling green hills of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.
‘We owned and ran the Doggett Street Studio, a gallery in Brisbane, for 20 years before we decided to sell up and move somewhere with cooler weather and a slower pace,’ says Scott. ‘I guess I was looking for something different, after more than 25 years in the art industry. Something with a stronger connection to the environment.’
Their 15-acre property on the northern side of Maleny is about as picturesque as you could imagine. From the roadside, the land slopes steeply downhill before arriving at a collection of hives, scattered across the grassy hill and surrounded by over 3000 bee-friendly trees. The family home is tucked away a little further down the valley, close to the banks of the beautiful Obi Obi creek and surrounded by pockets of lush rainforest.
It’s from here that Scott runs his thriving business, Hinterland Bees. He uses small-scale, eco-conscious production methods without additives, chemicals or heat treatment, to ensure that the raw honey retains all of its beneficial properties.
So what led this former painter to swap his brushes for a bee smoker? ‘It happened almost by accident really. We’d been backyard beekeepers since 1996, and soon after moving here, a friend asked me to help him remove a swarm of bees from a school gymnasium in Brisbane,’ explains Scott.
‘We made a date to remove it during the holidays but in the meantime, I put up a swarm lure trap (a smaller hive containing lemongrass oil, which imitates the queen’s pheromones and attracts the scout bees). Before I even got to do the removal I ended up catching several swarms at the school and by the end of that job our beehive numbers had gone from two to eight!’
After this, people began contacting Scott to carry out more and more hive removals. Each time he left with a new hive! Before long, Scott was supplying his honey to the IGA in Maleny, to the delight of the locals. ‘That gave us the impetus to keep increasing our hive numbers and honey production,’ reflects Scott.
Today, he works with 150 hives located both at his own property and at several fixed location apiary sites on private properties in the Maleny region. Each site has around 10-20 hives and Scott spends his days traveling between them, inspecting hives and harvesting honey.
‘I love the feeling that we’re doing something important, on an environmental level. It’s not just about making honey or rescuing bees, it’s also about educating people on their importance and what they can do to save them, especially if they find a hive in their home or place of business,’ he explains. ‘Bees are essential to our own survival and are responsible for pollinating a lot more of our food than people realise. Our dinner table would be very sparse without them!’
While Australia’s bees aren’t under the same strain that those in Europe and North America are, they’re still under serious threat from the use of pesticides, climate change, and drought. ‘There are a lot of beekeepers really suffering at the moment because of the drought,’ says Scott. ‘We’ve been really lucky here this past year with high rainfall and local natives in constant flower.’
A large part of Scott’s business still involves saving bees from commercial pest control by removing hives – sometimes up to three per week! – from homes and buildings around the region. “If a hive has been in a house for just a few weeks it’s a smaller job, but every now and then I’ll get one that has been there for a lot longer,’ he explains. Late last year one removal from a home in Nambour was ‘a monster’, taking him 12 hours to remove around 60,000 bees and 50 kilograms of honey.
‘Beekeeping has definitely given me the greater connection with the natural world that I was looking for,’ reflects Scott. ‘I get to work with thousands of bees every day, one of the world’s most magnificent and essential creatures.’