Expansion of Kimberley bush honey business offers hope to next generation of Indigenous beekeepers | Ralph-Lauren

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The gentle hum of honeybees, hard at work building their hives on Roebuck Plains Station in WA’s north-west, has become a familiar sound to Yawuru woman Naomi Appleby.

The apprentice, 31, feels at home working under the shade of the melaleuca trees, where she has spent many months mastering the art of queen bee rearing, 30 kilometres north of Broome.

“I’m highly enjoying it, especially the technical side of it,” she said.

“What might look a bit chaotic when you see a hive … you know, there’s this beautiful order to a beehive and what they produce.”

From little things, big things grow

Seven years ago, Naomi’s mum and dad Dianne and David Appleby started Walaja Broome Bush Honey.

By combining their Indigenous knowledge of native plants with modern-day beekeeping, the family has grown what was a hobby into a successful honey business.

“And then Dad’s technical skills about the environment here and the beekeeping.

“I think it is an untapped industry for young people.”

A grafting tool on a beehive cell
Grafting queen bees is an essential skill to boost honey production in commercial hives.(

Supplied: Walaja Broome Bush Honey

)

Reconnecting with country

Her father agrees beekeeping could be a unique career path for other young Yawuru people looking to work on country.

“We would love to get more involvement, particularly with the young ones.”

Using an extraction facility in Broome, the Applebys can produce anywhere between 700 and 800 kilograms of raw, medically-graded honey in a season.

A middle aged man standing next to his young daughter looking up at a tree
Naomi and David Appleby hope they can inspire other young Yawuru people to forge a career in beekeeping.(

ABC Kimberley: Courtney Fowler

)

And as they work towards expanding their operations, Mr Appleby hopes to train up the next generation of indigenous beekeepers.

“Beekeeping is a numbers game,” he said.

“On that foundation we’re able with confidence to expand. Probably the other part of that is the growth in demand for our pollination services.”

Queen bee hatches
A new queen hatched from this cell grafted by apprentice beekeeper Naomi Appleby.(

ABC Kimberley: Courtney Fowler

)

Mr Appleby said the family business hoped to double honey production this season and would start work on a new extraction facility later this year.

“Once we can build that, we’ll be able to increase our input [and] a lot more people outside the Kimberley will be able to enjoy this very unique product,” he said.

Growing the honey industry

When it comes to honey production, the north of WA is a largely untapped resource for the state’s $50 million industry.

The Applebys are among the small number of 50 registered beekeepers in the Kimberley and Pilbara.

WA honey wholesaler Natalie Bussau said there had traditionally been some unique challenges for apiarists in the north — particularly the long distance from established markets.

Man leaning over behind jars of honey
David Appleby hopes to double production and expand their honey extraction facility.(

ABC Kimberley: Andrew Seabourne

)

She said this had led her to work with remote businesses like Walaja, to help export their product more cost effectively.

“It’s something that we see as a huge gap in the market.

“This is all about opening up the ability for them to sell further south and abroad, by purchasing the honey in bulk … and working with them to have it bottled down here.”

two people in white bee suits surrounded by bush
David and Naomi Appleby check on their hives at Roebuck Plains Station near Broome.(

ABC Kimberley: Courtney Fowler

)

WA medicinal honey in demand

Rising consumer awareness around the anti-bacterial properties of honey is slowly seeing it shift from a staple on the breakfast table, to a niche product in the health food sector.

Ms Bassau said there was increasing demand for WA honey from markets in the Middle East, because Western Australia was free of devastating bee diseases and pests like the Varroa mite.

Honey bees in a hive.
Honey bees.(

ABC Kimberley: Andrew Seabourne

)

Ms Bassau said at a time when traditional beekeeping areas around the country were recovering from drought and bushfires, there was enormous potential for the northern honey industry to grow.

“The future of this space is really exciting,” she said.

“And we’ve got these big, beautiful areas of pristine bushland that many Indigenous traditional owners have protected and looked after, where they can produce amazing honey that you can’t get anywhere else in the world.”

Indigenous woman wearing purple holding a plant
Dianne Appleby says raw bush honey has been used by indigenous people for food and medicine for centuries.(

ABC Kimberley: Andrew Seabourne

)

Building on tradition

Back at Roebuck Plains, Dianne Appleby said it was early days but agreed the future was bright to grow a sustainable honey industry on Yawuru country.

“These practices have been handed down for generations and what we’ve done is trying to utilise these medicinal properties to bring forward to a more modern way of increasing the honey flow,” she said.

“It would be nice to get more of our young people involved … so yes, these are amazing times.”



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