Brenton Davis has a legacy. As a third-generation Kangaroo Island local, there are few people who know the island better than him – and even fewer who have beekeeping in their blood. When Brenton sets out each morning, he’s not guided by GPS; he’s guided by generations of knowledge and a quiet devotion to Kangaroo Island’s 140-year-old population of Ligurian bees.


Step into Brenton and partner Verity’s Island Beach home and you’ll be greeted by the shining faces of the couple’s three young boys as they scamper around the kitchen table. They are likely teasing the family dog and causing mischief, the way only brothers can. The family resemblance between father and sons is striking – blonde mops of hair, bright eyes and ruddy cheeks have clearly been passed down through the bloodline. What you might not be able to tell, just from looking at this Australian family, is that they are caretakers of the oldest bee sanctuary on the planet, Kangaroo Island, and protectors of the purest strain of Ligurian bees in the world. 

Brenton Davis sitting on a chair.
Meet Brenton Davis

What is it like to grow up on a remote island?

Brenton is part of a select group of people actually born and raised on Kangaroo Island. Located 14 kilometres off the mainland of South Australia, Kangaroo Island is one of the most remote spots in the state, accessible only by plane or ferry. Today, the island is a world-famous tourist destination garnering global attention for its incredible wildlife and untouched natural landscapes – but for Brenton, Kangaroo Island has always simply been ‘home.’ 


A man checking bee hives.
Brenton checking his bee hives.

Growing up on a sheep and grain farm on the rugged west coast of the island, Brenton experienced the freedom – and challenges – of a childhood spent on the land: “I was driving a stick shift [manual car] by the time I was 10, and by the time I was 12, I was on the road with it." "We had a lot of independence, but there’s not a lot of social interaction when your nearest neighbour is two kilometres away,” he conceeds. Without access to supermarkets or restaurants, the family had to be highly self-sufficient, reliant on what nature could provide. 

A close up shot of honey dripping off a hive
Brenton's honey

Brenton – ever the pragmatist – says that his grandparents started keeping bees purely out of necessity; while meat, vegetables and flour were easy to come by on the family farm, “sweet stuff” was harder to find in nature. Before he was even born, Brenton’s grandfather was handcrafting beehives and teaching himself the art of beekeeping – an art that would be passed down through the generations and eventually become Brenton’s livelihood.

What is KI Ligurian honey and why is it so special?

Brenton and Verity like to joke that they spend a third of their life on Kangaroo Island, a third on the mainland, and a third on the Sealink ferry – an unusual mode of transport for most people’s weekly commute. But, it’s this very separation between the island and the mainland that makes Kangaroo Island a beekeeping utopia. Unlike almost any other honey producing location in the world, the geographical remoteness of Kangaroo Island means that it has remained largely unscathed by pests and disease, the island’s wildlife thriving in a microcosm. 

With one third of the island covered in national parks and the Southern Ocean providing a natural boundary on all sides, Kangaroo Island was the perfect place to create a bee sanctuary.  “The Ligurian bee is from Italy, but it’s particularly suited to South Australia’s Mediterranean climate (and) the first beekeepers had the forethought to put them here on the Island,” Brenton explains. “It’s too far from the mainland for the bees to be able to fly back and forth, and that protects the genetic purity of the bees.” Declared an official ‘bee sanctuary’ in the late 19th century, the island’s bee population thrived and is now home to the purest Ligurian bee strain in the world. 

We had a lot of independence, but there’s not a lot of social interaction when your nearest neighbour is two kilometres away. Brenton Davis
A man's hand holding a tin smoker.
Beekeepers are a solitary type.

What does a day in the life of a beekeeper look like?

Beekeepers are a solitary type. Speaking about the small but mighty beekeeping community on Kangaroo Island, Brenton admits that “beekeepers by nature would prefer to go out into the forest and be stung by bees, than deal with other people”. Verity nods her head in agreement, adding “I’m an extremely introverted person – but when I go to a beekeeping meeting, I’m the most outspoken person there”. But while they might shy away from human interaction, beekeepers shine when surrounded by their flock – or their hive, as it were.

a close up shot of a bee coming in to land atop a hive
Beekeepers are a solitary type.

Brenton’s days are spent criss-crossing the island, checking on hives dotted amongst the scrub, harvesting honey and transporting it back to the warehouse in Kingscote, where it’s sold through their shopfront or sent directly to customers around the country and overseas. His office isn’t made up of four walls and a roof – it’s the dusty cab of a Hilux ute; the long stretches of dirt road he follows each day; the tin shed lined with frames of honeycomb.

Brenton's hand covered with bees.
Bee hives amongst Kangaroo Island's bushland.

“When people used to ask Verity, ‘what does your new boyfriend do?’ she would tell them, ‘oh he drives around and looks at trees and plays with bees,’” laughs Brenton. Verity shakes her head, like this is a conversation they’ve had many times before, quipping back “because that’s exactly what he does do!” While said in jest, Verity might not be far off the mark. Brenton’s days are, for the most part, spent alone – if you don’t count the bees as company, of course. “Years ago, when I came back from overseas, I wrote down all the things that I’m good at; all the things I knew that I could do,” he shares. “I liked working outdoors, working with my hands, woodworking and driving. I liked being able to be anywhere at all and theoretically be working – and that really fit the criteria for beekeeping.”

The life of a beekeeper – and especially a beekeeper located on a remote island – might not be for everyone, but watching Brenton interact with his bees, it’s clear that the Kangaroo Island local has found his calling. Like a seal pup – clumsy on land and effortlessly graceful in water – Brenton is at home amongst his hives, unhurriedly waving a tin smoker from side to side as he pads deftly between rows of wooden boxes containing honeycomb. Gently removing each lid so as not to disturb the liquid gold inside, Brenton barely acknowledges the bees that rise up around his uncovered face, settling on his outstretched hands.

Brenton does not fear the sting of bees.
Brenton does not fear the sting of bees.

He doesn’t fear the inevitable sting – a sting that some are even deathly allergic to – because he works in tandem with these tiny, but mighty, winged warriors. He is their protector – the kind that will quite literally cross the ocean to reach his hives when he finds out that they are being threatened by grassfire. Racing from the mainland, across the passage of water that separates Kangaroo Island from the rest of South Australia, and onwards to the remote spot where his bees have made their home, Brenton shows a passion that perhaps even he can’t voice.  

Beekeepers by nature would prefer to go out into the forest and be stung by bees, than deal with other people. Brenton Davis
Brenton standing amongst the hives.
Brenton, protector of the bees.

Indeed, if you were to ask him, Brenton would gruffly reject any notion that he has an emotional connection to his bees. No, he insists – there’s nothing tender in the way he handles honeycomb, no purposeful gleam in his eye when he speaks about the life cycle of bees, and absolutely nothing paternal about the way he cares for and considers his hives. But where words fail, actions speak volumes. His shoulders drop, just a fraction, when he steps out of his Hilux and into the bushland.

a bee polinating a eucalyptus tree
One of Brenton's bees in native shrubland.

 He thoughtfully selects the best spots on the island for his bees to reside and is careful to never disturb them too early in the mornings, or too late in the evenings. He knows how to walk through a swarm of bees without being stung and he can read the health of his hives from the buzzing hum they emit. While he might not vocalise it, Brenton shows his cards in other ways.

Life on Kangaroo Island

Things on the island remain, for the most part, unchanged from how they were 50 years ago – and therein lies the beauty of this sprawling natural oasis. There’s a phenomenon known as ‘Island Time’. It kicks in when you set foot onto an isle, placing a watery barrier between you and the trials and tribulations of everyday reality back home. While not an official time zone, it is a notional system of time that you feel, rather than track with a watch.

For Brenton, time on the island has a texture – it’s thick and slow like honey. Days stretch out before him, filled only by hundreds of kilometres of road to traverse and the sounds of buzzing hives. Standing atop a scrubby hill, with the waters of the Southern Ocean glinting in the distance, the Kangaroo Island beekeeper moves unhurriedly from hive to hive, lingering here and there to draw a frame of honeycomb from its casings or lifting a hand to inspect the small crowd of bees that have taken up residence between his fingers. Minutes tick by, maybe even hours. But Brenton remains unphased. His office is paradise, his hive are company enough and he has all the time in the world. 

There are few people in the world who carry a legacy as extraordinary as Brenton’s, or who live a life as unique as his. Yet, Brenton maintains his status as a third-generation custodian of the Kangaroo Island Ligurian bee population without fanfare, approaching his work with matter-of-fact determination and a sense of calm that puts those around him – including the bees – at ease. Want to see what Brenton's life is like? Clock onto island time and visit them at Island Beehive or book a behind-the-scenes factory tour.

'Community' Artwork by Gabriel Stengle


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