Australia’s longest-running beekeeping magazine looks to the future

Continuous production over 122 years, only eight editors, and readers that have subscribed for over 30 years. The Australasian Beekeeper Editor Des Cannon talks to TMSN about the magazine’s long history, and how it has adapted to a changing reader demographic following the recent surge in hobbyist beekeeping in Australia. 

Established in 1899, The Australasian Beekeeper is Australia’s longest-running magazine about beekeeping and the third oldest in the world. But what’s even more impressive is the commitment of its staff over that time – having only eight editors over its 122 years of continuous production (yes, it continued to publish during two world wars). 

The magazine aims to serve all members of Australia’s beekeeping industry, from the commercial sector to hobbyist beekeepers. 

TMSN Editor Lyndsie Clark caught up with current Editor Des Cannon about his time at the helm, how the magazine has adapted to the recent surge in hobbyist beekeeping, and how he sees changing environmental factors increasing the magazine’s relevance with Australia’s general population. 

Des Cannon, Editor, The Australasian Beekeeper
Des Cannon, Editor, The Australasian Beekeeper.

The ABK: steeped in history 

The Australasian Beekeeper (The ABK) magazine was established in 1899 by William Stanley Pender, the Co-founder and Director of beekeeping equipment and supply company Pender Bros. As Founding Editor, Pender remained in the role until 1931. 

William Pender, Founding Editor, The Australasian Beekeeper
William Pender, Founding Editor of The Australasian Beekeeper.

The magazine continued publication during World War II because beekeeping was seen as an essential industry, with beeswax needed for coating artillery shells, waterproofing army tents, and polishing the wings on the Spitfire planes used in combat. 

Pender Bros. continued to publish The ABK until 1998, when the then owner chose to split the magazine into a separate business, before selling the equipment and supply component of the business in 2004. The editorship continued to be staffed by Pender employees up until 1991. 

Cannon points to this arrangement as being a factor in the longevity of The ABK’s editors. “Whoever it was at the time, part of their role at Pender was to do the magazine. So that meant you had a long continuity of editorship. One editor, in particular, was there for over 40 years, and that was interrupted by World War II.” 

“Pender’s last Editor, Bob Gulliford, stayed as Editor after the magazine became a separate entity, and it wasn’t until 2012 – after I had been Editor for five years – when my wife and I purchased the magazine outright, that the owner wasn’t part of Pender.” 

Cannon himself has been Editor for over 12 years, although he says that he is trying to retire. He sold the magazine in 2017 but has stayed on as Editor since. 

William Samuel PenderJuly 1899 – October 1931
PC Blackett1931 – October 1934
Morris MorganOctober 1934 – June 1975
Hugh Langwell(Relieving) February 1942 – March 1944
William (Bill) WinnerJuly 1975 – January 1991
Robert (Bob) GullifordFebruary 1991 – December 2007
Des CannonJanuary 2008 – June 2019
Christine JoannidesJuly 2019 – January 2020
Des CannonJanuary 2020 – Present
A history of The ABK’s editors since it began in 1899. 

Cannon also says that he believes The ABK has had long-serving editors because of the industry’s temperament. 

“The beekeeping industry has always been fairly conservative, so Editors have been long-term, well-known, and well-trusted within the industry. 

“The industry itself is more comfortable with having the same person doing the editorship long-term.” 

The Australasian Beekeeper
A recent edition of The Australasian Beekeeper.

A focus on beekeeper education 

Cannon explains that his focus as Editor has been to educate beekeepers, largely because of his background. 

“I started beekeeping as a science teacher, and in 1978 I started teaching it as a horticulture unit so I did a TAFE beekeeping course.” 

From there his love for beekeeping grew, with Cannon growing his hobby from one hive to 30 by 1984, before making the decision to run a commercial operation which saw him eventually own 1,000 hives. 

Because Cannon had an education background and had made the transition from hobbyist to commercial beekeeping, the NSW Department of Primary Industries asked him and his wife to teach a beekeeping beginners course and a course on making the transition to commercial. 

“Along the way, I never lost my yen for being an educator, so I see my role as being that of providing beekeepers with articles that will make them better beekeepers.

“My background allows me an understanding of what people need as they’re going on their beekeeping journey.” 

Cannon says that this attitude has helped the magazine grow as it has moved from a B2B focused publication to one that also helps those looking to start beekeeping as a hobby, a practice that has been increasing significantly around the world. 

Adapting to a changing reader demographic  

“The huge surge in hobbyist activity is relatively recent,” says Cannon. “I think there are two reasons for it. One is the media focus on colony collapse disorder in America. But a lot of the American problems are American problems. The other is that people are starting to realise that anyone can keep bees in their backyard.”  

The Amateur Beekeepers Association NSW now has over 3,000 members, and the WA Beekeepers Association has grown from around 100 to over 2,500 in the last four years. 

The increase in hobbyist interest has also impacted The ABK’s readership, with subscriptions through the consumer-focused isubscribe platform increasing by 130 per cent year-on-year for 2019. The magazine is also now being distributed through newsagents to capture those with an interest. 

Cannon explains that while beekeeping is growing at the hobbyist level, it is retreating at the commercial level. 

“It’s an ageing industry. It’s like a lot of agriculture. A big part of the problem is that young beekeepers don’t want to be spending the amount of time away from home that commercial beekeeping demands. It’s also very physical, it’s very hard on your body.

“We’re finding a lot of family businesses are dropping out.”  

It’s an issue that Cannon addresses in The ABK, attempting to appeal to the younger generation of both commercial and hobbyist beekeepers. 

The Australasian Beekeeper

The ABK’s dedication to print 

Cannon says that he’s often considered producing a digital version of The ABK. 

“I’ve looked at it seriously three or four times. But over the 13 years that I’ve been Editor, the overwhelming preference has been for a hardcopy. 

“Commercial beekeepers often take it with them in their truck so they can read it while they’re out in the bush with their bees. Hobbyists like it as a coffee table type magazine that they can pick up and read at leisure. 

Cannon says that the norm is for subscribers to remain incredibly loyal to The ABK. 

“I know beekeepers who have subscribed to it for periods as long as 30-40 years, and family groups for much longer than that. The current owner was a beekeeper’s daughter, and read the magazine as a teenager.” 

Meeting needs based on environmental change 

While COVID-19 has had minimal impact on The ABK team and the beekeeping industry, Australia’s recent bushfires and changing weather patterns have. Cannon says that the bushfires burnt out, on the south coast of NSW alone, around 2,500 square miles of valuable beekeeping country.  

“The challenge has been to provide commercial beekeepers with the information to assist them to recover from the fires and loss of resources, and to at the same time keep hobbyists up to speed with coping with other aspects of climate change, such as increased temperatures and extreme weather events,” says Cannon. 

“A lot of beekeepers in Australia are not used to supplementary feeding and that’s become an absolute necessity with the bushfires.” 

Cannon believes that environmental factors will continue to influence the magazine’s direction and growth in readership. 

“I think that climate change is going to be a big influence in the future, and the lifestyle changes that will go with it,” he says. 

“We started to see the way people adapt their lifestyle to crises during COVID-19. There have been a number of people who started veggie gardens in response to the lock-down as part of the coping mechanism. I think that climate change might see that happening more frequently. 

“This might mean that even more people connect with beekeeping as being essential to their food production for themselves. The general population is now well aware of the need for bees to pollinate crops. We’re not going to die if we don’t have bees, but we’re not going to have the variety of foods we have. We won’t have nuts, we won’t have the variety of vegetables and so on. 

“So I see a need for a magazine such as ours, especially if we can adapt it to a growing population that’s looking to make these changes to their lifestyle.” 

“Bees are, after all, livestock we can all keep in our suburban garden, without the need for a large amount of land, so they are a way for people to connect directly with and enhance their own environment.”

A worldwide fraternity that never stops learning 

Cannon says that he is grateful for the career that The ABK has given over his time as Editor. 

“We try to keep our readers up to speed with recent research, both here and overseas,” says Cannon.

“Beekeeping is a worldwide fraternity, and I have been lucky enough to visit and meet with beekeepers in NZ, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Chile, and other countries.” 

Cannon says that he’s cultivated relationships with different authors and researchers overseas to ensure the content of the magazine is of the best quality, including a good relationship with the Editor of the American Bee Journal – the oldest beekeeping publication in the world.

He’s proud to say that over the 122 years The ABK has been in publication, its mission statement written in the first issue in July 1899, still holds true today: 

With this our first issue, we introduce to beekeepers a new journal entirely devoted to bees and the interests of the honey producer. We will endeavour to make the Journal as practical as possible, and with the assistance of beekeepers, will make it a valuable help to all keeping bees. We do not wish it to be our paper, but the beekeepers’ paper, where we hope to see a mutual exchange of thought among beekeepers of Australasia and all get assistance from it. If there is anything you wish to know we will be pleased to receive your questions and will lay them before experts, and give you the best information and advice that is to be obtained.

“You never stop learning,” Cannon says. “I’ve been keeping bees for 42 years, and I’m constantly finding out new things.”  

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