Jack Meagher’s First Epistle to the Bellingonians.
What brought you to our region?
We came up to visit Ali Brown and Roger Bourke in mid-2008 and fell in love with the joint, sold up in Forbes (too much climate change drought), bought our little piece of rainforest (I always wanted to live in a tree house) on Roses Rd and moved to Bellingen in January 2009.
In 2016 we spent 6 months travelling in Tasmania, Norfolk Island, NSW, SA, NT and WA. There were 6 Australian towns we thought we could move to, but now we are here we realise nothing compares to Bello. The environment is gorgeous and the people are gentle and inspiring.
The buzz is you’re a native bee keeper. Can you give us some background?
Native bees are stingless and as pets require no feeding or watering. To buy a hive with bees may require an investment of $500, but so will a cat or dog of very dubious breeding. With a beehive you get thousands of bees (think of all the fun you’ll have naming and counting them), with no additional costs including vet bills or embarrassing incidents, like them trying to mount the vicar’s leg when he comes for tea. Hives can be retrieved from the bush, but one has to be an expert to do this without endangering the wild hive.
A big attraction of native bees is the fact that they are not dangerous – they don’t sting. There are over 2000 native species but only a handful live communally like the introduced honey bees or ants. Some native bees live singularly and only come together to mate. Bees like this that live in Bello may be blue-banded bees, carpenter, peacock and teddy bear bees. Keep your eye out for them because they are particularly pretty and important for your fruit and veggie and flower pollination. Pesticides are lethal to these guys just like for honey bees.
Can native bees be kept in more urban environments?
Many animals and insects work as pollinators for plants. Bees, flies, ants, wasps, birds, and bats can all be pollinators. Native bees probably do better in urban environments than out in my rainforest because urban environments have lots of food i.e. flowers all year round. Native stingless bees that produce “sugarbag” honey only fly in a radius of 500 meters looking for pollen or nectar. Anyone can have native bees and of course, they won’t wake your neighbours up with their crowing.
What is their honey like- do you eat it?
Their honey is edible and exquisite. Its healing and antibiotic qualities leaves honey bee honey for dead, however the quantities are tiny. Think $60 for 1/2 kilo to buy it, i.e. if you can find it. One could compare the taste of stingless bee honey and honey bee honey to Grange Hermitage Cabinet Sauvignon compared to Chateau de Cardboard.
Word is you’re building bee motels?
I have tried to encourage the solitary native bees to my patch of paradise by making little bamboo and wooden motels to attract them. Bees are only part of the diversity that I am working on here as I also make bat, bird and mammal boxes as well as providing habitat for reptiles and frogs. We have at least 100 species of birds here plus wallabies, possums, bats, bandicoots, koalas, gliders, goannas, snakes, waters dragons, land mullets and skinks etc.
Do you have a favourite bird?
The once populous Grey-crowned babbler which is now endangered. They remain jolly despite our attempts to annihilate them. And because they don’t read the news.
So, to bee or not to bee? That is the question.
Yes. Let it bee!! If you would like to know more about Native bees then look for the latest and best book by Prof. Tim Heard or visit these links: www.sugarbag.net or www.mrccc.org.au for lots of free information and downloads. By the way, if anyone would like to see an old established hive of Carbinara native stingless bees, there is a hive on the path from the Post Office to the Bellingen library in the Camphor Laurel tree at the road end of the path, 1.8 meters above ground level.
Besides the bee bible, what are you reading right now?
I’ve always got a few books on the go which are probably about the environment, politics and art or the indigenous situation and normally I don’t read fiction. However the most important book that I read in 2016 and probably in my life, was ‘Grapes of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck. It’s a novel written in the 1930’s about ignorance, greed, struggle, community, resilience and farmers being forced off the land in Oklahoma. Since reading the book I am amazed that, by electing Donald Trump, it would appear that America has learnt nothing about integrity and snake oil salesman.
What do you find particularly annoying or baffling?
Some politicians appeal to people’s sense of GREED and FEAR and IGNORANCE to get themselves elected and stay in power. It would appear that they have no appreciation that the world is being asked to provide at a rate that is totally unsustainable.
I’m sensing you are very worried about the election of Trump?
You betcha. He defies everything that I was taught as a child about decency and morality.
What do you know to be true?
That all the living organisms on the earth live in balance with the planet except us humans. Will I be at the barricades to stop the Adani coal mine? You betcha. It’s a decision between greed and the planet’s survival. To do nothing would be cowardly and short sighted.