Dressed in a pink beekeeping outfit and boots decorated with honey bees, Alyson Shepherd inspects hives under the watchful eye of the resident magpie at her Daisy Hill home.
There are ornaments, solar lights and small boards with positive messages placed in all sorts of nooks and crannies of the garden.
It’s a far cry from the corporate existence Alyson lived just a few years ago, before her father’s sudden death left her in despair.
In May 2020, at the height of the pandemic panic, Keiron Shepherd was given a week to live.
“He had lung cancer, but it was in remission,” Alyson said.
“He had a scan and then we got a phone call from the oncologist saying the cancer had spread to his brain.
“A week after that phone call, he passed away.
“I was sad and sad because my father was someone I really respected.
“He was a bit of a freak. He and I would always sing to our own tune and he would always tell me to believe in myself.”
About a year after her father’s death, Alyson, her husband Lenny Phillips and their two young children, Isla and Elliott, moved into their Daisy Hill home in Brisbane’s south.
“I was working for a large dental corporation, but COVID reset my values and losing my father made me reevaluate my life,” she said.
“I was a bit lost in the corporate world and I found I needed something else.”
Alyson’s new direction came when she discovered loggers hired to remove dead stringy bark from the yard.
“They found a 36- or 37-year-old intergenerational beehive,” Alyson said.
“Rather than spraying and mulching, they rescued the bees and then moved them into the hive.”
Painted yellow, white and pink, that hive now lives in a front yard surrounded by flowering plants.
“They have been here for a long time. I felt it was my duty to keep them here in their home.”
‘They brought a sense of peace’
Thus began Alison’s relationship with bees.
“The bees gave me a sense of calm,” she said.
“They brought me spirituality, a little mindfulness. They brought a sense of peace and helped me through my father’s grief.”
He now has six hives on his large property, including one with native stingless bees on a log.
“Sitting and watching the bees brought me back to where I was,” she said.
“Watching them made me see the family structure of the bees in the colony, and it reminded me that family is everything.”
He named his first hive and small honey business after his 101-year-old grandmother, Norma Mae Wells.
“She is the most resilient, strong woman I know and I admire her.”
“I grew up on honey”
Norma May attributes her longevity to a daily dose of honey.
Norma May says, “If I have toast in the morning, it has honey on it and I can eat it two or three times a day. I grew up with honey.”
“Maybe that’s why I lived as long as I did.”
Alyson and her grandmother hold hands as Norma May reminisces about the days when her father and brothers went into the bush to collect honey.
Then she looks at Alison and adds with a laugh, “Your husband probably calls you honey.”
From 101-year-old Norma Mae to Alison’s newborn niece, the whole clan descended on Alison’s house for a get-together.
The only “outsider” is Keith Pasquill, Alyson’s beekeeping mentor, who makes her feel like she belongs.
Alyson believes Keith was sent by his father.
“I believe in it 100 percent,” he said.
“There was a moment when I lost myself because my father was such a great role model for me.
“Then I started with the bees and, you know, as fate would have it, along came Keith.”
Keith, 65, was a project manager in Information Technology when he became interested in bees.
“I’ve been in IT for a long time and things are changing so fast that I just wanted to give life a different focus,” Keith said.
He and Alyson met through a hobbyist beekeeping website.
“I think it’s a bond over bees. We both love bees,” she said.
Now, at markets, shows and schools, they teach as many people as possible about the important work that bees do.
“One in three mouthfuls of food depends on bees for pollination, so the more bees we can have out there, the better,” Keith said.
As Alyson generously pours her backyard honey into butterflies for the kids, Norma May admits that such times are precious.
“My family makes me so proud. They’ve been wonderful,” Norma May said.
“I’ve actually been a very blessed person and sometimes I whine about it and think it’s too hard for me, but it’s not.”
Alyson knows there are still dark days ahead, but her bees have helped bring the light back.
“I like to stand on the edge of the box and be who I want to be. I’m loud. I’m proud and happy,” she said.
“Life is really short and we are blessed with every day that we are given, so it is really important to be kind and let the people around you know that you love them and respect them.”
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