Even as a child, Russell was passionate about these busy little insects. His first encounter was when his father caught a swarm of honeybees in a chaff bag, brought them home and shook the bees into a second hand box. Russell’s enthusiasm rapidly grew. With the help of his father, he spent every opportunity available to grow his colony numbers. Russell owned 40 colonies of honeybees before he could drive. By age 19, he owned nearly 100 colonies of honey bees.
As a boy in the late 60’s, Russell saw his first colony of native bees in a log that his father brought home after a day of timber cutting. His uncle also gave him a colony which he homed in an old honey bee nucleus box. His interest in native bees grew rapidly after reading Tim Heard’s press release in the local newspaper in the late 80’s. Within a few years, Russell had 40+ colonies in boxes.
Russell’s new wife Janine enjoyed keeping stingless bees too. She learnt something new every time they presented a display or workshop.
We spent 5 days in Aurukun, far North Queensland on a reconnaissance trip to investigate the opportunity for indigenous people to farm native bees. With the help of elders and a small group of community members, we believed there to be great potential.
We delivered basic training in these 3 communities. A number of colonies were established in each location. We were able establish the identification of 4 distinct species; T. hockingsi, T. sapiens, T. clypearis and A. cassiae.
I was very happy to spend time with and introduce the indigenous people to the idea of native beekeeping. There are many native bee nests up there on the plateau. Some species live in the crevices around the rocks and others co-habitate with termites in the termite mounds.
What a wonderful year of exchanging bee knowledge, box building and chainsawing! We were privileged and honoured to see and learn about their country and culture. What an amazing adventure. By the end of the year, 220 colonies were in boxes and honey was being sold.
We are now based on the family property at Hatton Vale. Our beekeeping hobby has rapidly turned into a business. Our colony numbers are growing and we are now needing to keep colonies on kind people’s property.
Russell has always had an interest in Platyceriums (staghorns and elkhorns). He loves the way they look in any location, whether on trees, buildings or mounted on boards. Russell has one of the largest collections of platyceriums in Australia.
The big decision was made. Russell was going to leave TAFE and we would work with the bees full-time. We have never looked back. As others have said to us many times: “I don’t know how I had time to go to work”. Russell and Janine currently keep 200 colonies of honeybees and many 100s of colonies of native bees.
He holds the following qualifications
Janine has been an active partner in the bee businesses. Having a background in dental nursing and food preparation, she is acutely aware of maintaining standards of quality and hygiene. She is the honey processing professional.