Joanne McNeill: Profts of enduring value

By Joanne McNeill

Between them Einstein and old wives' tales cover everything from practical magic to scientific orthodoxy.

On the matter of bees though, these polar oracles are in complete agreement.

Reputedly, Einstein predicted that after the last bee, humanity has four years left.

Superstitions about these industrious pollinators, with a crucial role in the food chain, are legion.

Apparently a bee indoors is a sign of good luck or of a stranger coming to visit. Even if the visit seems insignificant at the time, great importance should be attached to it because what seems trivial today may be paramount tomorrow.

A bee on the hand foretells money, or on the head, future fame.

Killing a bee attracts years of bad luck.

It is also unlucky to buy or sell bees. Bought bees will not prosper - best to borrow the first swarm and promise to repay if the giver ever loses theirs - and bee-keepers must tell their bees all the family news or lose bees and good fortune.

Mind you another school of thought reckons beekeepers are all mad - sent crazy by something in the stings (possibly the same secret ingredient popularly alleged to cure rheumatism).

With bees already under threat globally from pesticides, predators, electronic interference and habitat loss, the untimely outbreak of so-called bee wars in the wilds of the Far North could bear out the latter theory.

Reportedly hives have been stolen and poisoned in jungle warfare for access to the manuka flowers, which produce active antibacterial properties in honey.

The premium price for active honey has sparked a new gold rush.

Really though, the bee wars are manuka (or tea-tree) wars, because the real gold is the flowers of the beautiful humble tea-tree with its elegant Pre-Raphaelite trunks, perfect indigenous default coloniser of land long denuded of original bush cover, yet traditionally reviled, derided and massacred by farmers intent on creating monocultures for short-term profit.

The destruction is ongoing. As we speak, smoke drifts across the ridge from a once-forgotten, misty, manuka-filled gully where new owners with myopic mindsets, have started the clearance, bulldozing it into piles and burning in situ ... never mind even the oil and firewood potential, let alone the golden honey pot at the end of the rainbow.

Typically in the tide of human affairs, just as what seemed worthless yesterday becomes valuable, suddenly it's gone.

Rail is a case in point. No week passes without reported job losses, closed tracks, sold-off workshops, faulty imported rolling stock, lost skills and other criminal government logistical neglect of our strategic rail infrastructure, which is required to return profit while competing with private enterprise on taxpayer-subsidised roads.

Potential catastrophic consequences abound. For instance, manuka honey turns out to be the only cure for a pandemic antibiotic-resistant killer bug, just as the last tea-tree burns.

Or war in the Middle East halts shipping. Cheap imports dry up just as local manufacturing folds. Oil prices rocket. Road transport becomes uneconomic. Nothing moves. Food rots. Milk is poured away. Supermarkets run out and we all starve, just as the last stretch of formerly uneconomic railway track is ripped up.

Will they ever learn that enduring value and short-term profit are not always synonymous?

- Northern Advocate

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