Meet three Victorians keeping age-old jobs alive
Traditional professions that survive in the desk-job age.
Behind the glass, the beehive is abuzz. Returning worker bees communicate the whereabouts of pollen to the next wave with a waggling ‘dance’, while others tend honeycomb or hidden pupae. When most people think of an office, they picture morning meetings and humming computers. But, for Benedict Hughes, this verdant garden with chooks scratching around his ankles is his office.
”You never know what you’re going to get,” says David Smythe of his chimney-sweeping career.
The apiarist, known as the Practical Beekeeper, tends 100-plus hives across northern Melbourne, as well as educating primary schoolers through to TAFE students at Melbourne Polytechnic on the joys of bees. The glass-sided hive is a teaching aid at Brunswick’s CERES community park, home of enthusiast club the Bee Group and one of Benedict’s hive sites. While his chosen career might be unusual – he estimates only a handful of full-time beekeepers operate in Melbourne – it is also important. Many of the plants that sustain us rely on the humble honeybee, and beekeepers’ specialties range from honey collection to queen cultivation, swarm relocation, crop pollination and more.
Benedict’s interest was piqued when he established a hive to pollinate a struggling pumpkin vine. “I didn’t set out to be a beekeeper, I did it purely for my gardening,” he says. “But one hive become two, two became five, and all of a sudden you’ve got a hundred.” A job redundancy four years ago gave
him the chance to take his hobby full time. “I’m so lucky because it is such a passion; it’s not really work,” he says. “So even though I work every day, I get to be outside, I get to be with nature, I get to share my love and passion for bees, and, of course, make a bit of honey.”
While the popularity of fireplaces ebbs and flows, he finds the nostalgia of a crackling fire is timeless.
David Blythe was not so much drawn to his trade as born into it. The second-generation chimney sweep now helms the business his father Peter started, but he has helped out since he was five years old. “As a kid I always loved going out with Dad,” he says. “It was always so exciting and I always thought I would love to do something with such diversity as a career.”
His father’s only condition was that David needed a qualification to fall back on if needed. So David qualified as a mechanic, but has been running Blythe’s Clean Sweep solo for several years. He tackles commercial and private chimneys of all shapes and conditions, so no two jobs are the same. “You never know what you’re going to get,” he says. His father once came face-to-face with a skeleton in a chimney at a university, courtesy of prankster med students.
David does face incredulity when people discover he’s a chimney sweep, but finds there’s still a call for expertise with something so potentially hazardous as fire. “When you think about the cost of buying a house, for the sake of a couple of hundred dollars’ difference from doing it yourself to getting a professional – you can’t really put a price on that,” he says.
While the popularity of fireplaces ebbs and flows, he finds the nostalgia of a crackling fire is timeless. “There are a lot of younger couples starting a family who have memories of going to grandma’s house, having toasted marshmallows, and having that beautiful aesthetic that the fire provides.”
Benedict Hughes practises and teaches the art of beekeeping.
Arborist Amanda Woodhams gets airborne.
Second-generation chimney sweep David Blythe.