THERE is a sweet taster of things to come from behind Sovereign Hill's closed gates.
Sovereign Hill has released its first batch of raw, unfiltered honey from its own bees and hives onsite in the open-air museum.
Managed beehives have been part of Sovereign Hill for more than three years, happily buzzing away and relatively unnoticed in what started as a bid to improve education on the importance of bees in the environment.
Sovereign Hill operations manager Jarrod Page found inspiration in a 2016 visit to the British Beamish open-air museum, which tells the story of industrialisation in north-east England. Beamish gardens are pollinated by bees from its own hives and Mr Page said there was a good story about looking after the environment.
Mr Page said Sovereign Hill was passionate about ensuring traditional crafts were maintained for the good of the environment and community. Bees seemed a good fit.
Our intent was not to harvest and make money off (bees), it was more about bees assisting pollination. We're lucky this year to have harvested 200 kilos of honey.Jarrod Page, Sovereign Hill operations manager
"Our intent was not to harvest and make money off (bees), it was more about assisting pollination. We're lucky this year to have harvested 200 kilos of honey," Mr Page said.
"(The hives) are in some of our garden tours...Unless you're looking for them they are sort of hidden."
Sovereign Hill started the project by teaming up with Backyard Beekeeping Ballarat and hosting two hives. The museum now has 12 hives in different locations, mostly close to vegetable gardens and fruit trees. There is an apiary in horse paddocks near the Aura set.
Mr Page said the museum was particularly conscious about visitor safety and allergies, which was why the hives were worked in to the museum's natural environment.
He said bees could travel three to four kilometres to forage for food, so there had been plenty on site before the hives.
Bees were responsible for pollinating about 90 per cent of wild plants and up to 40 per cent of crops. Mr Page said to have hives and a commitment to beekeeping allowed the museum a chance to educate about sustainable food production.
Mr Page said there was great potential in adding hives to the museum's Narmbool site, in Elaine, for he environmental learning centre. Narmbool has plenty of native bees and is home to feral hives but Mr Page said managed hives would add an extra educational element.
A number of Sovereign Hill staff had become apiarists in their own homes and have been keen to help the program.
Honey had been a by-product of the project this year. The museum has been able to pour 570 jars from its harvest. While many staff have been hungry to have their taste, Mr Page said the museum was making sure Ballarat residents could have a chance to claim their own jar, via online sales.
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Meanwhile, it remains unclear when or how Sovereign Hill might re-open to visitors as coronavirus restrictions in Victoria ease.
Sovereign Hill chief Sara Quon, in speaking to media this week, was confident in the museum's ability to meet patron limits, maintain social distancing and keep all on site safe. But Ms Quon said the big question was in finding a visitor level that was viable to best support staff and operations.
Forecasting shows it could be 18 months before international visitors and cautious domestic travellers return to Sovereign Hill. The museum has been modelling different options for opening the large-scale site.
It was also uncertain whether Sovereign Hill might be able to continue with plans to mark the museum's 50th anniversary later this year.
Sovereign Hill honey launched on Wednesday, coinciding with World Bee Day.
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