The Western Australian Beekeeping Industry

Australia's pioneer settlers faced with the difficulty of importing all their sweetened foods gradually realised that the Australian bush could support a bee population and made attempts to introduce European honeybees into their adopted land.

The family Apidae, to which the true honeybee belongs, is indigenous to Europe, Africa and Asia. Therefore it was natural for attempts to be made to introduce this family into Australia by the early settlers many of whom were of British origin wax foundation embossing roller..

The difficulties of transporting hives in sailing ships over thousands of kilometres of sea were eventually overcome and after many attempts and disappointments colonies were established firstly in eastern Australia and later into Western Australia in the early 1840's.

A report in the "Inquirer" dated 11 November 1846 reveals that a hive of bees which had been successfully established by Lt Helpman, had swarmed and that the swarm had been carefully caught and hived. The late Mr. Jesse Hammond in his book "Western Pioneers" mentions that his uncle, Mr William Jones of Guildford had a very large bee farm there in 1873.

Once a few colonies had been established they spread widely throughout the State. A press report 12 January 1881 mentions that three gallons (13.6litres) of honey was taken from a "Bee Tree" in the Victoria Plains district and that later in the same year, 6 September, it was reported that sixteen cases of Swan River honey were sold on the London market.

Commercial beekeeping developed steadily in the last decade of the nineteenth century. The Smith brothers from the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia, brought their bees to Western Australia and were based in the Bakers Hill - Glen Forrest area. Using horse drawn vehicles to move hives from bee site to bee site, they were probably Western Australia's first migratory bee keepers. Later they sold their bees to the McNamarra brothers of York, who continued as large-scale honey producers.

The Cook cousins who had earlier gained beekeeping experience in New South Wales, helped the Smith's and later developed their own apiary at Toodyay in the Avon Valley.

The first statistics on beekeeping, collected in 1896, show the State's 2,267 hives produced some 38 tonnes of honey. Today some 3,200 tonnes are produced annually from approximately 40.000 hives. About forty percent is exported.

The first honey bees introduced were the North European Apis mellifera mellifera, but following severe losses of hives in the 1880's apparently from wax moths, Italian Apis mellifera ligustica were imported. These are the bees most commonly used. Because only a few importations have been made from Italy over the years the quality of Australian stock has declined.

The industry remained fairly static until the early 1930's. From 1934, the number of hives of bees increased by fifty per cent (50%) and by 1936 the production of honey from about 16,000 hives had increased to over 450 tonnes - an average of 28 kg per hive.

Another fairly static period followed through to the end of the Second World War after which a steady increase in the industry in 1977 brought the number of hives kept for production to 32,000, with an average production of 76 kg of honey per hive.

Since 1977 the number of beekeepers has been fairly constant with about 75 commercial full time apiarists, each having more than 200 hives of bees. The number of productive hives has steadily declined since 1965, namely due to poor economic conditions and diminishing floral resources due to land clearing.

Bee Breeding - the history of the Better Bees breeding programme

The development of a bee-breeding program using artificial insemination by the Western Australian Apiculture Section of the Western Australian Department of Agriculture has helped to maintain a high level of production in the current stock of honey bees for industry.

In 1980, commercial apiarists donated queens from their best honey producing hives to a bee breeding programme at the WA Department of Agriculture. Daughter queens from the best of these were mated to selected drones at Rottnest Island. Rottnest Island is free of wild bee colonies. Queen bees from the breeding program were sold to beekeepers throughout Australia and overseas.

In 1991, the program was sold to a consortium of beekeepers in Western Australia who currently operate the program for the benefit of the beekeeping industry. Thus, local apiarists can avoid the risk of introducing exotic bee diseases through importing breeding stock.

Western Australia is free of most pests and diseases of bees

Western Australia is free of European Foulbrood and other economically important exotic bee diseases and pests that can adversely affect the honeybee and horticultural industries. Quarantine measures are in place to prevent entry of diseases and pests.

The Western Australian Beekeepers' Act 1963-80 provides for the control or prohibits entry of bees, beehive products, equipment and appliances into Western Australia. Western Australian legislation is in addition to Commonwealth legislation. Beehive products, equipment and appliances permitted entry by Commonwealth legislation may be prohibited entry into Western Australia by State legislation.

Significant beekeeping areas

The distribution of apiary sites indicates six areas of the State significant to beekeeping.


Of importance is the pollination of mainly melon crops at Kununurra on the Ord River in the Kimberley region of the State's north-west. Pollination of orchards, horticultural and broad acre crops ie. canola is also carried out in the South West of the state.

For more information on Western Australian beekeeping associations, businesses, research, promotion matter and National beekeeping groups click on the home page links.


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