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  • Pete Thomas

Nuc-ing Downtown Balclutha

With decades leading apiculture training behind him, David Woodward has more than his fair-share of beekeeping yarns to share. He took time out to Zoom in with PETE THOMAS who relays a series of yarns, with one particular misadventure during Woodward’s days at Telford standing out.

If anything, 2020 has taught us how to work remotely through the assistance of technology. So, when Dr David Woodward, the Director of Pollination Lab ltd in Mosgiel first appeared on my monitor to confess his own “Sting in the Tale” story, it all seemed quite natural. However, this wasn’t such the case back in 1997 when one particularly memorable event took place.

David had just left Adelaide and landed his first job in New Zealand as the Apiculture tutor at Telford Rural Polytech. Young and eager to impress, he was responsible for several hundred hives while coping with a tide of even more impressionable novice students learning the art of bee manipulation, or possibly not to bee manipulation?

David Woodward

Such was the case when one of David’s students had the misfortune to experience one of his teaching aids getting in under the hood and into the student’s ear. Freaking out and distraught with the buzzing beastie, the student sprinted off down the banks of the Clutha river while smacking himself in the head like a raving lunatic.

On another lesson, David mentioned how warm the inner depths of the hive would feel if you didn’t have any gloves on. “WOULD” being the key word during this demonstration, but that seemed to slip the mind of one spritely student who caught David’s eye in the penultimate second as they jammed their novice arm into a demonstration hive up to their elbow. Remaining calm and collected, David nodded and suggested “that’ll do for now…” to casually divert a near disaster.

These were the days before the health and safety we know today. When the use of flat deck Bedford trucks ruled the road and not a nylon tie-down in sight. A period when Boy Scout 101 knot-tying was a prerequisite for any aspiring beekeeper, which probably appeared soon after one particular venture upon David’s curriculum during that Summer in 97’…

David rallied up his students one evening to transfer several dozen nucs from Clydevale as part of a queen rearing routine for the course. It was “a bit of a Flintstone affair” according to him with the old Bedford truck teetering around corners under heavy load and a strange affair of odd-shaped nuc boxes on the back. His students’ either rode in the cab or bounced on deck under a cover wearing a haberdashery of donated bee suits.

Despite their cobbled together state, their mission to retrieve the hives from the rural outpost up the Clutha valley appeared to go without a hitch. So, David thought nothing else of it when he returned to the polytech, weary of the work and effort, but nonetheless content.

So, once they placed all of the nucs down with the rest of the donated equipment, David thought nothing more other than they appeared somewhat less when gathered up together. Apparently he had a great sleep that night to awake fresh and prepared for the next day of adventure at “the poly”.

At 8am his covert mission was unleashed to the world when the receptionist informed David about an announcement on Big Radio about some hives scattered across the road in the centre of town!

Downtown Balclutha, the scene of a nuc attack in the summer of '97.

Without hesitation he grabbed his student crew by the scruff of their necks, jammed them into the cab of the truck and rushed off like Barney Rubble to where the accident took place. As he rounded the corner, he probably muttered some new learnings to his unlearned crew when he saw the road carnage out in front of a local community centre. By now a small, but slowly growing, group of curious bystanders were gravitating toward the mess.

As you can now doubt imagine, there were agitated bees flying everywhere, gathering increasing attention from uneducated members of the public. The distinct and bulbous Bedford truck rolled up to the disaster where his motley crew needed first to usher the stubbie-wearers and gawkers away from harm before trying to collect broken nucs and sticky honey from the roadside.

In the distance, a lunatic was spotted running down the creek, whacking himself in the head…


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