Approximately 14 kilometres off the coast of South Australia lies an island about the same size as Puerto Rico. For thousands of years Ramindjeri people have known it as Karta, the island of the dead, sacred home of departed ancestral souls. But nineteenth century colonisation gave it its dominant European name when British explorer Matthew Flinders called it Kangaroo Island.Known to the locals today as KI, the island thrives on a successful agricultural industry and burgeoning tourism. Early immigrants to KI were mostly British, German, and Italian farmers, stockmen, and beekeepers. In 1884 Ligurian bees were introduced to KI from their native Italy (by way of England, and then Queensland) to not only ensure economic survival, but also because of KI’s abundant bee-friendly flora and its geographical isolation that guaranteed genetic purity.
In 1885 an Act of Parliament was passed in Adelaide to proclaim Kangaroo Island as a sanctuary for the imported Ligurian bees. Following the passing of the 1931 Apiaries Act, which allowed for the inspection and confiscation of vessels or apparatus headed to KI, quarantine on the island has always been strictly enforced.
Thanks to this legal protection and the inter-generational attention of the island’s beekeepers, KI’s Ligurian bees have remained free of disease since their introduction. To this date they are the only known colony of pure Ligurian bees left in the world, and Kangaroo Island is the only known honeybee sanctuary of its kind.
The significance of this pristine and healthy colony is proven by how Kangaroo Island’s bees are now helping scientists understand the current bee crisis and work to protect the rest of the world’s bee populous, and also, astonishingly, contribute to cancer research. Early studies at the University of Sydney indicate that propolis taken from KI’s bees (an antibacterial substance that all hives make) is high in Reversatrol, which amongst other things has been effective in treating tumors.
Kangaroo Island’s hard-working and reputably gentle-natured Ligurian bees are one of many examples helping us to understand: without the work of honeybees, many food crops will fail. Unless bees are protected, unless the same kind of foresight of legislation passed in 1885 is enacted now, global food shortage is a very real threat, as is the demise of our natural world.
All this and I’ve not mentioned the award-winning organic sugar gum honey, or the famous Kangaroo Island honey ice cream.
In essence this article is a small contribution to a much larger discussion. What can we each do about the bee crisis? Whether pure-strain Ligurian, or not, a single honeybee does its humble job and in doing so makes an essential contribution to the survival of our planet.
Writers, this is our waggle dance. Winged is our nectar. We must pick up our pens. We must conjure the alchemy of our imagination to awaken, agitate, pollinate, and transform our bee-themed thoughts into the powerful elixir that is story.
We must. This is our humble job.
– This article first appeared in Winged, 2014, to promote their call for submissions.