The passion and perseverance of a beekeeper

VALE: Beekeeper extraordinaire Grant Lockwood - May 21, 1958 - June 5, 2017


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The passion and perseverance of a beekeeper - John Lockwood.

The passion and perseverance of a beekeeper - John Lockwood.

Aa

Family and bees were a constant theme for one of the Australian honey industry's pacemakers.

Aa

WHEN Grant Lockwood died on June 5, with him went a window of a past unlikely to be seen again.

His peers regard him as one of the key play makers in what Australia’s apiary industry is today.

Arriving on a Saturday afternoon at the Bee Keeper’s Inn, a solitary business on the Mitchell Highway at Vittoria, you’ll find the place humming.

The restaurant is packed, and people trawl flower-specific honeys, cosmetics and gourmet preserves in the timber displays that wrap around the dining area.

Behind a sheet of glass bees work, creating an intricate comb.

The bees of Vittoria

It was in the early 2000s that Grant fell in love with an old Cobb and Co inn and opened an antique shop.

“Well you know it’s in the middle of nowhere and people used to say ‘where can we eat?’, that was enough for Grant,” said his wife, Vicki.

Mr Lockwood was a savvy businessman, a bit of an opportunist, and always a perfectionist.

He built the Beekeeper’s Inn into what it is today – a honey factory, restaurant, wedding venue and antique store, soon to become a museum and always headquarters to the Lockwood clan.

Mr Lockwood was born in Sydney. His father Roy, from Yorkshire, built a house in Sydney, but having come from a ageless rural society, couldn’t handle the hustle and bustle of the big city.

He moved to Orange, for a reason verging on the bizarre – there was no sea about.

He had served during World War II in the Royal British Navy and had been pulled from the Arctic Ocean, one of few survivors of a wartime naval disaster.

The ocean held no mystery for him, just traumatic memories.

Yet a break in Australia during the hostilities led to one of the most fortuitous meetings of his life.

Writing home to his family of his leave pass, they corresponded in turn, advising that a family from a nearby village had in fact emigrated to Australia and they suggested he make contact.

He did, and that was where he first laid eyes on the woman who would be his future beau, Ida.

They met once and corresponded to war’s end, five long years, before they married.

Beginnings of a dynasty

GRANT Lockwood was about eight years old when his family escaped the big smoke and his father built another house in Iceley Rd, near Canobolas High School.

It was at Canobolas High School Mr Lockwood first met Vicki.

“I didn’t think much of him and he didn’t think much of me and we didn’t have anything to do with each other,” she said.

Their romance came later, when Vicki worked at Westpac and Grant was working with the Orange Bee Farm, thanks to after works drinks at the Standard Hotel (now the Lord Anson).

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“He was different, he’d travelled,” said Vicki, explaining some of the allure, “he played the guitar and was a fan of Bob Dylan, he bought and sold stuff, he loved the bush and he loved bees,” she said.

A seasoned traveller, Grant had paid for tickets for both he and his father to return to the UK for a visit. His mother, Ida, had died when Grant was just 19.

Grant left his father in the UK, doing the rounds of old haunts, and in this time he happened across a childhood friend, Mary, unmarried and still living in her parents house.

They returned to Australia two years later, married.

Before the Orange Bee Farm, Grant had been something of a journeyman, after fleeing his first job on a bicycle from Kentucky Fried Chicken.

It was Jim Sanders who got him into the bee game.

Mr Sanders ran a few cattle and grew vegies and Grant did a bit of work for him.

Enough work, it seems, for Mr Sanders to be impressed by the young man’s attitude.

Getting into bees big time

MR SANDERS knew Murray Charlton, Eddie Podmore and Kevin Bayer, then big players in the bee industry and the owners of the Orange Bee Farm.

It was from there Grant became even more travelled.

In the winter months, the bees were pretty much dormant, so Grant would take three months to himself, travelling the UK, the US, Europe and Scandanavia.

Back at home he was working bees from Bateman’s Bay to Thargomindah in Queensland.

“You’ve got to remember, this was the ‘70s,” said Vicki, “none of it was easy, the trucks were pretty mean and they dragged along a tuckerbox and slept in bedrolls.

“These days they camp in a motel.”

When Grant was out at Thargomindah, the only way Vicki could get word to him was by leaving a message at the pub or via the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Vicki and Grant married in 1982 and now have four children John, Mark, Claire, and Sam. 

“We never missed an annual holiday together as a family,” said Vicki, “he really loved his children.”

In about 1990 Mr Lockwood left the Orange Bee Farm and went potato farming, “geez they were shocking times,” said Mrs Lockwood.

But bees soon made a reappearance.

The export game

TEAMING up with Eddie Podmore again after the sale of the Orange Bee Farm, the pair began exporting bees to South Korea, their expertise headhunted by a Korean bee company.

It went well until the Asian financial crash in the mid to late 1990s.

The crash ran rampant through the Asian economies and the Korean export business went belly up.

Cashless the Korean company paid Mr Lockwood in hives.

By this time Mr Lockwood knew just about everything there was to know about the apiary business.

He knew beekeeping, he had bush skills, knew how to package honey and had refined the export of packaged bees.

With wife Vicki, former banker and constant guardian of all things Lockwood, they began the journey of forming the business that exists today. 

They were soon delivering to 40 Franklins Supermarkets in Sydney and pollinating fruit orchards around Orange.

The winter slowdown might be one of the reasons Grant really jumped on the almond pollination season as a useful early season wedge in the bees’ year.

“It was about 2003 I think, he was one of the first to really commit to it.

“He basically realised it would be a major industry and the bees would have been dormant otherwise.

“There were a lot of sceptical people about, but he made it part of our program.”

Visionary, natural bushman and entrepreneur, Grant Lockwood died on June 5, aged 59, falling victim to melanoma.

Today his family works together, an incredibly cohesive unit, keeping his dream alive.

One thing about him, said Mrs Lockwood, is that he was always a very fussy beekeeper.

“I compare it with a violinist never playing a bad note,” she said.

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