Honey and the heritage of Kangaroo Island are equally important to a local islander, who's using a revamped fruit and veg van to spread the word.At the Island Beehive store on Kangaroo Island, Peter Davis’ winged workers are constantly providing produce for his ever-growing range of honey-related products.
The small hive of Ligurian bees, on show behind perspex at his Kingscote store, need to cover about 90,000 kilometres of territory to produce half a kilogram of honey. For Peter, his bees are his long-time pride and joy, but they may feel a little neglected, given the time he’s spent recently on his latest obsession.
'First time, every time, Peter?'
'Well I hope so,' he says. 'It’s certainly purring along nicely.'
Peter’s behind the wheel of his vintage 1948 Austin van as we cruise around the streets of Kingscote on one of his newly-established heritage tours - and his new jalopy certainly turns heads.
'Where did you find it?'
'I found it behind a shed covered in chook poo.'
'Out at Cygnet River where it was originally from.'
Peter remembered it well as a kid. The 1948 Austin and its owner William August Boettcher – ‘Gus’ or ‘Augie’ to the locals – delivered fruit and vegies grown on his Cygnet River property. While visiting another apiarist in Scandinavia more than 20 years ago, Peter Davis had a ‘road to Damascus-style epiphany’ which would ultimately cause him to spend about $200,000 of his own money restoring the heritage gem we’re now riding in.
'In the first week we were there, he showed us around castles, towns and graveyards that were up to 1,200 years old and it made me realise the importance of heritage,' Peter said.
Kangaroo Island's European heritage may not be 1,200 years old but Peter reckons it’s pretty special nonetheless. It’s where authorities established a Ligurian bee sanctuary, the oldest pure strain sanctuary in the world with bees brought here from Liguria in Italy in 1884.
It’s also where the first official European settlement in South Australia was established, at a location Peter’s keen to point out on his tours.
'So Peter, where are we now?'
'We’re down at Reeves Point, the site of the first settlement where they landed just over here.'
'And this is the Mulberry Tree?'
'This is the Mulberry Tree, one of the first trees planted here on Kangaroo Island – um, officially!'
It’s a point Peter Davis, a passionate islander, is keen to make to all the mainlanders who join his heritage tour.
Some people may know about the official settlement of Kangaroo Island in July 1836, when members of the South Australian Company first put down roots at Reeves Point, well before the HMAS Buffalo anchored at what’s now Glenelg a few months later. But many are completely unaware of the unofficial settlement of Kangaroo Island, as Peter Davis explains to me under the shade of the famous Mulberry Tree:
'When the settlers get here, they're really surprised because a bloke comes out of the scrub wearing a coat made of wallaby skins and possum skins calling himself Governor Wallen and reckons he’s been here for 18 years. He's come from a farm at Cygnet River, the first farming area in South Australia.
'There’s a bit of conjecture about where he came from originally. Some people say that he could have jumped ship from a sealer, or he could have been a convict and escaped from Van Diemen’s Land.'
In one of the great ironies of this little tale, Governor Wallen was the person who first farmed the Cygnet River property later purchased by 'Augie' Boettcher. And it was on that property that Peter Davis would later find Augie’s rusting 1948 fruit and veg van.
'We used to go there every Saturday and see Augie in the main street and get dried apricots from him or sell him strawberries that my parents grew, so yes there’s a lot of people my age that remember him well and his van.'
As I sit back and let Peter regale me with his tales of Kangaroo Island’s secret history, it becomes clear that this is a man on a mission, and that there’s a certain destiny to the story of the old fruit and veg van we’re travelling in.
'So this old bus has been drawing you in for some time?'
'Yeah it has. It’s like suddenly you realise the importance of heritage, the importance of the Ligurian bee sanctuary, and the importance of the first settlement.'
And the importance of a little heritage bus that’s about to clock up a few more miles thanks to a bloke who’s passionate about his island and it’s many unique stories.
'So you’re happy with the job?'
'Happy… more than happy. It was far beyond what I ever expected. It cost far beyond what I ever expected too. Hah hah.'
Peter Davis’ Island Beehive Centre is located on the corner of Playford Highway and Acacia Drive.