Topic: Fun and Games in Wellington, 1962 -1966 by Julie Ryan

Topic type:

A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

On Midwinter’s Day 1962 Bill Haines put on his old Petone overcoat for the first time since he went north in 1945. He was going back to Wellington to fight for his livelihood with the heads of government departments, the leading beekeepers and five chief Agricultural and Health Department scientists, and against the deadly agricultural enemy, Scolypopa australis (aka the Passionfruit Hopper). The combatants were, according to the minutes:

  • Mr A.M.W. Greig (chairman); Director, Horticulture Division, Department, Department of Agriculture.
  • Mr T. Palmer-Jones; Scientific Officer (Beekeeping), Department of Agriculture.
  • Mr E. Smaellie; Superintendent of Beekeeping, Department of Agriculture.
  • Mr R.S. Walsh; Senior Apiary Instructor, Department of Agriculture.
  • Mr W.R. Boyce; Superintendent, Horticultural Research Station,
  • Mr J.R. Barber; President, National Beekeepers Association.
  • Mr R.A. Fraser; Secretary, National Beekeepers Association.
  • Mr W. J. Haines; Beekeeper, Kaitaia.
  • Mr I. L. Baumgart; Assistant Secretary, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
  • Dr. W. Cottier; Entomologist, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
  • Dr. W. Murphy; Health Department.
  • Mr H. W. Carter; Health Department.

 

The meeting was to be held on the fourth floor of the Dominion Farmers Building, 110 Featherstone Street - the Head Office of the Department of Agriculture. It was an intimidating address, since the Reserve Bank occupied the first two floors but it was known in the north as Bullshit Castle.

 1Minutes of Meeting 22 June 1962 On Tutu and Toxic Honey, Dept. of Agriculture, held at Archives New Zealand, Wellington, AAOQ, Acc W37872, Box 46, 80/23 Part 1NZ, Wellington.

 

Bill got there early, expecting to meet up with Jim Barber and Rob Fraser and make a solid beekeepers’ entry, but the weather was too miserable to wait on the steps. He was nearly blown through the door, to be confronted by a stumpy-legged moa standing at the foot of the stairs. Clerks and bankers were hurrying by in all directions, taking no notice of the bird or of Bill Haines, beekeeper of Kaitaia, in his rusty old coat. They were tearing off hats, gloves and coats, while juggling bags,newspapers and dripping umbrellas and trying to fight their way into the lift. Bill kept getting pushed back, so he was quite matey with the moa by the time Fraser and Barber arrived.

“Well, I expected to meet some old fogeys today,” said Rob, looking the moa up and down, “but those scabby brown argyle socks it’s wearing beat all!”

“Come on, you two country bumpkins,” said Jim. “It’s on the fourth floor.”

The lift was jammed with staff trying to get to their desks by nine, so they followed Jim up the stairs, puffing more and more, till they were surprised by meeting a moa on the second landing.

“I didn’t see him overtake us - did you?” Bill asked.

“He must have come up in the lift!” said Jim.

They therefore arrived at the meeting room more cheerful than they had expected to be. Eric Smaellie rushed to welcome them to his flash new premises: last year he was an itinerant apiary instructor, this year Superintendent of Beekeeping, Department of Agriculture! He asked kindly after Mrs Haines, and then Bob Walsh introduced his beekeepers to the chairman, and to the other scientists. Trevor Palmer–Jones was as affable as if Scolypopa australis had never come between them. They were seated at the long table where they had a glimpse of the harbour through the window behind the chairman. A female stenographer with a cold was ready to take notes.

Mr Greig formally welcomed everyone and announced the reason for the meeting: “To find some method of enabling beekeepers in North Auckland to continue honey production without the closing of six zones on account of tutu and toxic honey production.”

At first there was a stumble as Bill noticed he had been given a different map from the others, one showing fewer of the coloured ‘Closed’ areas, but this slight embarrassment was soon put right. They then began with a history of poisonings in the Bay of Plenty dating back fifty years.

Dr Cottier described - with many ahems - a census of the passionfruit hopper in 1947, and the survey of potential toxic sites in 1960. The gruesome testing of toxicity on guinea pigs and mice was explained by Trevor Palmer Jones, who also said it would definitely be possible to locate a parasite in Australia as soon as a scientist could be spared to go over for a year to hunt one down. He confidently expected Scolypopa to disappear from New Zealand anyway, along with its host, the tutu plant, once the bush was fully cleared for agriculture.

“Meantime spraying with 2,4,5-T is advisable,” said Mr Boyce, “within range of the hive. The cost would be £3.5/- an acre - two applications would be required.”

The stenographer took the opportunity to have a good cough.

In answer to a question from Bill about why this problem had never revealed itself in North Auckland before, Dr. Cottier stood and looked all around the table through his rimless spectacles said, “As a scientist, ahem, I feel must point out, ahem, that there is no conclusive evidence, ahem, that toxic honey has NOT, ahem, been produced in Northland in previous seasons, ahem.”

Dr. Murphy and Mr Carter then had a little discussion, and Dr Murphy rose to say, “The absence of medical evidence is of low significance since cases of mysterious sickness would not be reported.”

The stenographer asked for a moment’s pause while she blew her nose.

Mr Greig, taking charge of the meeting, pointed out, “Time is getting on, gentlemen. The question is: how are we going to handle this problem in future? Would you agree that the appointment of more apiary inspectors would enable gazetting of potential toxic honey danger periods, and would thus allow early crops of manuka honey to be safely taken?”

Bob Walsh and Eric Smaellie enthusiastically agreed. The scientists pointed out they would need more staff to cope with the extra testing, and certainly a lot more guinea pigs.

After that it was all routine. The stenographer, scenting conclusion, sniffed and kept scribbling. The most exciting clause for Bill, though he kept a poker face, was: 9. f) Purchase by Government of all potentially toxic honey.

“An outlet for impounded honey would be its sale for feeding bees at a cost of sixpence a pound to the buyer. A colorant would help to ensure that it was used for this purpose and not for human consumption. Since a return of sixpence a pound would not be economic to the producer a government subsidy of three to four pence a pound would be desirable.”

In response to a final conscientious quibble, Mr Baumgart assured everyone, “The distillation of toxic honey is not an economic proposition. The bees will do it much cheaper than we can”

Thus the various government departments and the beekeepers found a gentlemanly solution to the problem of toxic honey, without ruining beekeepers or prejudicing the valuable agricultural work bees did, pollinating clover pastures and tree crops.

All in all, Bill felt it was a very good day’s work. Late that night his second grandson was born in Auckland. They named him William Joseph Andrew after his clever grandfather. Bill was then able to pick up Audrey and their elder grandson, Timothy, on the way back home. Timothy’s father cried when he was left behind at Mount Albert, but the well-adjusted, one-year-old Timothy stood dry-eyed, in the back of the car, eager for his first adventure Up North with Grandma and Grandad.

Though the toxic honey affair was thus brought to a fairly satisfactory conclusion for Northland beekeepers, in other parts of the country suspicion of Scolypopa australis smouldered. In 1963, a beekeeper and honey packer in Rotorua, Lloyd Holt, had stocks worth 22,000 pounds seized and held for three months by the Department of Health.   

The affair was hot news for three years, reaching the Supreme Court where the department only withdrew from the case as the second hearing was about to commence.

An action by Holt’s Springfield Apiaries to extract compensation from the government for loss of profit then dragged on until the Prime Minister Keith Holyoake urged Cabinet into action before the 1966 election to silence newspaper reports of departmental high-handedness and three years of duck-shoving.

Haines Apiaries had by that time diversified into selling package hives and sending them overseas. They were too busy to be more than sympathetic.

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This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/9NH2-VPET

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