The Birth of a Tasmanian Honey Company

by Eliza Ward

Julian Wolfhegen founded the Tasmanian Honey Company in 1980. A consummate environmentalist, Julian’s interest in bees and honey came as he was searching for a more meaningful life path - one that was both ecologically and philosophically sustainable. What started as a bottle of fine mead with friends around the fire on a cold winters night, ultimately resulted in what is now the Tasmanian Honey Company.

Julian’s premier product was Leatherwood Honey “produced” by happy bees under the dense canopy of the ancient rain forests on the remote Western side of the isolated island of Tasmania. Located at latitude 42 degrees south, Tasmania’s latitude is shared only by the Southern most tip of New Zealand and the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego. At this latitude, the circum polar winds provide a constant westerly trade wind known as the “Roaring Forties.” This wind draws moister off the great Southern Ocean and deposits a lot of it as rain on the Western side of Tasmania - providing water to the Tasmanian rain forests under which the Leatherwood trees thrive and produce their exquisite, golden nectar. So, by virtue of the pristine condition and remote location of the rain forests where the Leatherwood trees grow, Julian’s Leatherwood Honey is naturally organic.

Choosing Sustainability over “Progress” - The Tasmanian Way of Life

The obvious conflict between man and nature, and the constant desire to find a balance between nature and economic development was the hallmark of Julian’s world at the time of the company’s inception. Tasmania was deeply entrenched in a hydro-industrialist mentality; loggers of the magnificent Tasmanian rain forests dominated the halls of local government. In 1978, the Tasmanian Hydro Electric Commission announced their intention to build a dam on the Gordon River just below the Franklin River tributary, a project which would severely impact two of Tasmania’s exquisite wild rivers.

The announcement of the project polarized the Tasmanian community. Julian, along with many others, felt that there had to be a better and more sustainable long-term solution for Tasmania and its inhabitants. The potential impact of the dam project on Tasmania’s beautiful landscape drew international attention largely due to the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam blockade, probably the most broadly reported environmental campaign in Australia’s history. The blockade, which started on December 14, 1982, immediately gained worldwide media attention, quickly broadcasting Tasmania’s message of environmentalism far beyond the shores of this seemingly remote island, and quickly established the protest as a potent symbol of the ongoing struggle between man and the environment.

The blockade galvanize the international environmental community and began to attracting protesters from all around the world. By the end of January 1983, over 2500 participants occupying the dam site. In a futile effort to stop the blockade, the Tasmanian government passed a number of laws and arrested many – but that did not deter the protesters, although it did severely tax Tasmania’s prison system.

Soon after the inception of the blockade, the UNESCO committee in Paris’ made the decision to place the Tasmanian wild rivers on the World Heritage list, which led to the proclamation of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, covering both the Franklin and Gordon Rivers. But the conflict was not confined to this island province of Australia – it also impacted national politics and, in March 1983, the new Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, passed the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act to help protect the Franklin River and permanently halt the dam project. Not surprisingly, the local Tasmanian government fought the act all the way to the Australian High Court, although they eventually lost the fight by one vote.

And the Beat Goes On - Man vs. Nature

The conflict between man and nature continues every day. In 2008, nearly twenty-five years after the passage of the landmark act, the former Prime Minister referred to the Franklin River as an important reminder of our struggle against global warming and the continued sacrifice of nature in the name of economic “progress.” All driven my man's ever increasing desire for cheap and convenient energy.

Ironically, the long term solution to Tasmania’s energy needs just might come from the same place that Julian found his life path: the “Roaring Forties”. Just as these ever-constant trade winds feed the Tasmanian rain forests and the Leatherwood Trees, so might they feed Tasmania’s ever growing need for power. As someone famous once said: How many times can a man turn his head Pretending he just doesn’t see? The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind The answer is blowin’ in the wind. - Bob Dylan

Meeting the Man - Julian and his Tasmanian Honeys

We have been selling The Tasmania Honey Company’s genuine Leatherwood Honey for years, but met Julian face-to-face for the first time this past January, 2010. He is as one might expect - a passionate producer and beekeeper, and an easy conversationalist with an encyclopedic knowledge of bees, Tasmania, and the art of making delicious and healthful honey. Since that first conversation, I have spoken with or emailed Julian a number of times, and each exchange is a learning experience.

The Hallmark of Julian's Work -The Art and Science of Producing Great Honey

In keeping with his philosophical commitment to work with, and not against, nature, and to preserve one of nature’s most unique gifts in its most natural state, Julian uses a special low temperature technique to process his honeys. By using this low temperature process, he is able to extract and clean the honey while preserving the floral essences, unique flavor and innate health benefits and vitality of the honey.

Because of this low temperature process, most of Julian’s honeys have a natural tendency to crystallize at room temperature. Most commercial honey brands use high temperatures to both aid in the extraction and cleaning process, and to delay the crystallizing process and make the honey more "squeezable." Unfortunately, the high temperature processes not only destroys the delicate floral fragrance of the honey and changes its flavor, but also compromises the honey’s other qualities and potential health benefits.

Although Julian’s Leatherwood Honey has always been one of our favorites, we were excited to learn that he is now putting his bees and beekeeping expertise to work on other local Tasmanian flora. Now introducing Julian’s Tea Tree (Manuka Highly Active) HoneyChristmas Bush Honey, and French Lavender Honey from Tasmania – all produced on Tasmania under similarly pristine conditions as his Leatherwood Honey. Click here to learn more about all of Julian’s Tasmanian Honeys.

Next article: The History of Honey


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