13 May 2024

We're not pollen your leg ... on 18 May, Parliament House is the place to bee

| Sally Hopman
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Man checking bee hives

Parliament House’s volunteer head beekeeper Cormac Farrell harvests honey from the hives. Photo: Five Foot Photography.

It’s the sweetest time of the year – for humans and bees.

As we shiver towards winter, volunteer head beekeeper at Australia’s Parliament House, Cormac Farrell, packs his car with a couple of boxes of bees strapped in the back and drives up the highway to Sydney’s Government House where the NSW Governor, Margaret Beazley welcomes them into her garden.

The tradition began when the current Governor-General, General David Hurley was Governor of NSW and, as a keen beekeeper, allowed the Parliament House bees to holiday in a warmer NSW during the Canberra winter.

“We don’t really know what bees’ tolerance is to the really cold weather, ” Mr Farrell said, “and we don’t want to find out the hard way.

“So as soon as the Canberra weather starts to turn, we take them up to the warmer environment.

“The bees get a nice winter holiday – and have a great view of the Opera House.”

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Mr Farrell said, despite stinging reviews from some quarters, bees are low maintenance.

“The native stingless bees just go around and do their thing, pollinate the flowers, which is why we can have them at Parliament House and in the outer courtyards there.”

Although it’s been a couple of challenging years for honey bees, Mr Farrell says the passion for beekeeping in Canberra and surrounding districts continues to grow.

To that end, he will host a masterclass at Parliament House on Saturday, 18 May, on the eve of World Bee Day on 19 May.

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The masterclass will look at integrating bees into landscape design through native and exotic plant selection and how the Parliament House gardens act as a vibrant, bee-friendly city. It will end with a tasting of honey from across Canberra’s urban spaces – and honey and honeycomb made by the Parliament House bees.

“We’ve held a few smaller masterclasses over the years,” he said, “but this is the first time we’ve held them at Parliament House so it’s very exciting.

“People will be able to see exactly what we do up here, how we work together with the landscape gardening teams, and how the gardens have been set up so the bees can forage.

“Canberra is such a city of gardeners, so we want to show people how to set up their own gardens for bees.”

Woman dressed all in white with bees

Griet Gijsels from the Belgian Embassy tends to bees in the Embassy’s garden ahead of its Bee Fair on 19 May. Photo: Belgian Embassy.

He said it had been a couple of tough years for honey bees with back-to-back La Niñas bringing increased rain, so not as much honey had been produced by the Parliament House bees for gift jars sold in the shop. The available honey had been used to infuse products for the shop and used by chefs in the cafe – including honey ice cream and honey gin.

“By having these bees at Parliament House we can show the decision-makers here just how important food production is tied to the environment.

“Bees are pretty amazing,” he said

“They live their lives in a completely different way from the rest of us, yet we are completely reliant on them. Without them, our environment and food production would collapse. They are also beautiful to look at—and fun.”

Bookings for the 18 May Beekeeping Masterclass at Parliament House are essential.

To mark World Bee Day on 19 May, the Belgian Embassy will hold its annual .befair from 11 am to 3 pm.

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