In a world of troubling environmental forecasts – climate change, sea level rise and ongoing pollution, it’s easy to feel helpless. Now, a Brisbane-based woman with a passion for Australia’s bees is on a mission to reverse their decline and herald in a more sustainable future.
Imagine a bee that thrives in urban environments, requires no permits or safety equipment to keep, needs little maintenance, makes delicious honey to harvest and – bonus – has no sting .
Welcome to the passion of Sarah Hamilton, a humble Meliponist (stingless beekeeper), who found her life-calling in her business, Bee Yourself.
When Sarah left school, she, like so many of her friends, believed that her life’s purpose was all about marriage and ‘settling down’. One divorce later, no kids and an unexpected urge to quit her job in the corporate world, and Sarah felt she’d run out of options.
“I had no idea what I was going to do! Then a series of things just happened and everything fell into place,” she says. Starting out as horticulturalist, her career took a number of turns before she decided to keep bees, and her business seemed to grow organically.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a long hard slog and I am way off from where I intend to be, but now at 33 years old and with four years of running my own business under my belt, I know I’ll get there,” she says.
Despite being diagnosed with the rare nerve disorder called Hereditary Neuropathy with Liability to Pressure Palsy (HNPP) a couple of years ago, Sarah continued her work as a Meliponist.
“My goal is to always inspire others to love these little bees, and other pollinators and creatures, and nature as much as I do. I really love my work and the people it connects me with. I’m ever grateful to do what I do, I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to spend my days.”
In recent years, despite there being more information about bees and their role in our ecosystem, not many people would be familiar with the term ‘Meliponist’, Sarah explains.
“The word Meliponist comes from the word ‘Meliponini’ which is the species name for the stingless bee. These little bees are completely harmless and safe for pets and children alike. Over time, stingless bees evolved to lose their stinger as it was no longer a necessary form of defence for them.”
According to Sarah, stingless or not, bees are some of the hardest working creatures on our planet. Our lives depend on them, as they are responsible for pollinating some 400 agricultural plant species.
“Pollinators such as bees are crucial for most of our crops, Sarah explains. “Without bees and other pollinators, we would cease to produce these foods. It’s important to remember that these foods are not only consumed by us, but by a huge range of other creatures! If we lost these foods, we would experience massive habitat losses”.
Sarah says that these pollinators are also important for our own gardens and that we could well see a huge difference in flower and fruit production after introducing bees to our backyard.
“Everyone can help reverse the decline of bees by becoming a beekeeper. Kindergartens and schools have found beekeeping to be a fantastic, interactive way for children to get involved in learning. Bees bring so much joy as they are a delight to watch. Having your own fresh honey is a bonus.”
The best place to start, according to Sarah, is reading The Australian Native Bee Book, by Tim Heard, and then obtaining a hive – both available at beeyourself.com.au. Sarah offers a 12-month live-hive warranty and ongoing support, answering any questions you may have as a beginner beekeeper. She also suggests joining both European and Native bee clubs in your area.
“What I’ve learned is when you stop trying to force things, the best things begin to happen naturally. When you stop overthinking, you’ll be able to hear your purpose. When you become unapologetically yourself (this will mean taking big risks), not only will you fall in love with yourself, but so will others. When you really love something as much as my passion for bees, nothing will stop you. ”