Beekeeping in Australia

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Circa 1940: Beekeeping at Curlwaa Public School

Beekeeping in Australia is a commercial industry with (in 2013/2014) around 12,000 registered beekeepers owning around 520,000 hives.[1] Most are to be found in the eastern mainland states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Beekeepers or apiarists, and their bees, produce honey, beeswax, package bees, queen bee pollen, royal jelly and pollination services for fruit trees and a variety of seed crops. These pollination services to agriculture alne are valued at between 8 and 19 billion Australian dollars.[2]

Australia is the fourth largest honey exporting nation after China, Argentina and Mexico.[3] The high quality and unique flavours of Australian honey allows exporters to charge a premium price.

Urban bee hives, Avalon Beach NSW
Scientist examining bees near Young, New South Wales


Prior to European settlement Australian aboriginals consumed “sugarbag”, honey from native bees found in tropical areas.[4] There are over 1,500 species of native bees. Some are social while others live alone. Most Australian native bees are either stingless or their stings are not generally dangerous to humans. However, native bees generally don't produce a large amount of honey.[5]

Introduction of European bees[edit]

The first imported honey bees to be successfully acclimatized in Australia were a hive that arrived on the convict transport ship Isabella which reached Sydney in March 1822.[6] Dr T.B. Wilson RN, surgeon-superintendent on the convict transport John that arrived Hobart on 28 January 1831[7] brought the first honey-bees to Tasmania.[8]

Later, other species were introduced from Italy, Yugoslavia, and North America.[9] The milder climate in Australia meant less honey had to be left in the hive to feed the bees through winter compared to Europe and North America.

By 1871, the visiting British author Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) could report,

The wild bee of the country is not nearly so common as the much more generous and busier bee from Europe,- with which the bush many miles from the coast is already so plentifully filled that honey is a customery delicacy with all the settlers.[10]

In February 1903, Victorian bee-farmer Thomas Bolton (1863-1928) questioned the wisdom of clearing the forest in the Dunkeld area of the Western District. He said the blossom from the trees was annually converted by bees into honey worth £150 per square mile of forest. The land was being cleared to create grazing pastures for sheep which he claimed annually returned just £80 per square mile.[11]

In 1921-22, Australia produced 7,370,790 pounds weight of honey.[12] Honey exports that year were worth £84,417. Beeswax was also exported.

About 70% of Australian honey comes from nectar from native plants. Demand for pollination services for almonds and other crops is growing.

The species most commonly used for bee keeping in Australia are European bees (Apis mellifera). Most commercial bee keepers have between 400 and 800 hives, but some large operators have up to 10,000.[13]

Australia produces 25,00 to 30,000 tonnes of honey annually, worth 4 to 6 million dollars (Au).[14] Some is marketed as being from a single flowering species while other honey is produced from multiple types of flowering plants. Popular types of honey include Leatherwood, Blue Gum, Yellow Box and Karri. The purity and variety of Australian honey makes it popular in export markets in Asia and elsewhere.

Diseases and parasites[edit]

Foul brood[edit]

In New South Wales in 1889 The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser uses a leaflet from the Beekeepers' Association of South Australia to outline how to recognise American foul brood (caused by Bacillus alvei) in a hive and how to treat it.[15] In South Australia, by 1891 an article in the South Australian Chronicle indicates that there was already an act in that state to attempt to control the spread of American foul brood.[16]

Varroa Mite[edit]

The Varroa Mite (Varroa destructor) is a dangerous parasite that causes the honeybee population of hives to collapse. It is not yet present in Australia but it remains a threat.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bee Aware website Industry Retrieved May 13, 2016
  2. ^ Australian Honey Bee Industry Council, Monthly News, March 2018,
  3. ^
  4. ^ Aussie Bee website Australian Stingless Bees Retrieved May 13, 2016
  5. ^ Aussie Bee website Common Questions about Australian Native Bees Retrieved May 13, 2016
  6. ^ Cumpston, J.S., (1977), Shipping arrivals & departures Sydney, 1788-1825, Canberra, Roebuck, p.132. ISBN 0909434158
  7. ^ Nicholson, Ian Hawkins (1983), Shipping arrivals and departures Tasmania Vol 1, 1803-1833, Canberra, Roebuck, p.180. ISBN 0909434220
  8. ^ The Hobart Town Courier, 10 August 1832, p.2
  9. ^ "The Wonderful Story of Australian Honey" Retrieved May 13, 2016
  10. ^ Trollope, Anthony (1873), Australia and New Zealand, London, Tapman and Hall, p.190
  11. ^ "The Beekeper - Forest Destruction," The Australasian (Melbourne), 21 February 1903, p.10
  12. ^ The Illustrated Australian Encyclopaedia, vol 1, (1925) Sydney, Angus & Robertson, p.148
  13. ^, accessed 17 September 2019
  14. ^, accessed 16 September 2019
  15. ^ "Foul Brood" The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912) Sat 14 Dec 1889 Page 1305. Trove: National Library of Australia. Retrieved 9 March 2019
  16. ^ "Foul Brood in Bees Deputation to the Commissioner of Crown Lands" South Australian Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1895) Sat 18 Apr 1891 Page 13. Trove: National Library of Australia. Retrieved 9 March 2019

Other published sources[edit]

  • Bolton, Professor H.C., "Thomas Bolton: A pioneer bee-keeper in Victoria," The Victorian Historical Journal, Vol 47 (4) November 1976, 295-305
  • Beekeeping in Victoria (1981), Melbourne, Victorian Department of Agriculture, 139p
  • Honey flora of Victoria (1973), Melbourne, Victorian Department of Agriculture, 148p

External links[edit]