ACT News


ACT draft code the bee all and end all for keepers

On Wednesday and dressed just like astronauts (looking very much like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon in July 1969) the Minister for Territory and Municipal Services, Shane Rattenbury, and some beekeepers worked with a busy beehive and its swarm of occupants.

Although dressed very much like Armstrong and Aldrin (in white costumes and with white helmets and hoods fitted with wide visors) the Canberrans were not on the moon, but in a small paddock at the CIT in Bruce.

The impressively dressed members of the Beekeepers Association of the ACT (when not dressed as astronauts, they have natty black shirts and caps decorated with a golden honeybee and flower emblem) have their headquarters and some hives there. And so it was thought the ideal place for the minister to launch the draft of a code of practice for beekeeping in residential areas of the ACT.

To amuse the news media, the minister was dressed in the protective clothing usually thought necessary, just to be safe, when toying with bees, and then was led to a thriving hive. There was some concern about the inviting bareness of the legs of shorts-wearing Canberra Times photographer Rohan Thomson, but the beekeepers were fairly sure the bees would be mild-mannered. And just to make this more likely, one of the beekeepers harmlessly anaesthetised them by burning some pine needles, taking the smoke into a puffer and blowing said smoke into the hive. This has a mysteriously calming effect (eerily like the effect Ross Solly's ABC 666 radio show has on its several dozen listeners).

Why, we quizzed Beekeepers Association treasurer Dick Johnston, do we need a code of practice for beekeeping, like this draft one being launched?

We need it, he said (the golden logo on his cap glowing in the noonday sun) ''because it gives some guidelines for beekeepers in urban areas of the ACT, so that their hobby doesn't interfere with other people's lives''.


''A lot of people are concerned with bees and may be anxious [about possible stingings] with bees living next door. And there are hundreds of beekeepers in Canberra now with just one or two hives in the backyard. We don't know exactly how many beekeepers [they don't have to register] there are here, but our membership is 150 and, because I've owned a beekeeping supply company here, I know there are hundreds of beekeepers here, maybe even a thousand.

''Now this code covers numbers of beehives you can have [it proposes maximums of two, four and eight on small, average and large blocks respectively], how to keep them in good health, how to keep them mild and well-behaved, providing a good location with ample water [so that they don't have to go next door for it, to a swimming pool perhaps] and generally doing everything, so as not to cause a nuisance to neighbours. And another good thing about the code of practice is that it sets out a procedure by which people who are concerned can get their concerns examined and resolved.''

Wednesday's Bruce honeybees were a good advertisement for the amiability of their species (Apis mellifera) and/or for the way in which the smoke from burning pine needles makes their species dreamy. Even when an astronaut took one bee-laden frame and gave it a good bang to send its dreamy bees toppling into another part of the hive, the loudest noise the disturbed bees made was a low, melodious grumble of disapproval. It reminded me of the grumbling sound the outraged scholars make in the silence-demanding elite reading rooms of the National Library of Australia when lower-class visitors who don't know the rules dare to natter to one another.

Rattenbury said: ''Not only do honeybees provide the delicious spread many of us have on our toast each morning, they also pollinate the fruit and vegetables we harvest from our backyards. Bees, however, are equipped with a sting and therefore can cause a nuisance if good beekeeping practices are not followed. Community feedback is invited to finalise the code. The draft code can be viewed online at and comments can be made via the online feedback form.''

Reading the draft code, one comes across a super new word (new to this reporter at least) with so many potential uses. Under the ''Maintaining a quiet strain of bee'' heading we find that ''honeybee colonies managed in urban areas must be maintained with young queens of a docile strain. Docile queens are specially bred and sold by queen breeders. Aggressive colonies should be requeened [our italics] with a docile strain.''

Whenever an organisation, a government, say, a political party, a corporation, even a public service department is headed by a woman and she is then succeeded by another woman we can say that organisation has been requeened.

If Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund is succeeded by a woman, then the IMF will have been requeened.

Perhaps we see men who marry again, especially when their new wife is as forceful as their first, undergoing a process of requeening.