Aussie candlemaker Queen B lights the way

Aussie candlemaker Queen B lights the way

Disgruntled and stressed with work as a Sydney-based corporate lawyer and marketing strategist, Cate was advised by a doctor to take up a relaxing hobby, so she started rolling candles made from pure beeswax in 1998.

She gave handmade candles to family and friends, and they soon developed a following.

That hobby gradually turned into her business, Queen B, and she now sells more than 150,000 handmade candles and 35,000 beeswax wraps annually in Australia and beyond. 

More than 20 years after founding her business, she has made and sold more than 2.5 million Australian beeswax candles and half a million beeswax wraps.

“I am passionate about making the purest light in the world in a completely ethical way, touching lives and making a difference every single step of the process,” she says.

“There is a certain quality that a handmade product achieves that churning a product out of a machine doesn’t.

“It extends to our Australian-made cardboard boxes that we ship orders in, the water-activated brown paper tape, the corn foam packaging fill that we’ve used for 20 years – which was nigh on impossible to find in the early days – to the beekeeping practices of the beekeepers we buy our wax from.”

Cate says layer upon layer of thinking goes into everything they do that has nothing to do with business principles and everything to do with principles of humanity, sustainability and integrity.

She is always concerned about the many cheap candles that flood the market that are made from petrochemical paraffin and bleached, hydrogenated soy wax candles that pollute the air.

“They are much cheaper than pure beeswax but are toxic to burn – also by buying them you may keep someone employed in a factory in China, but if you buy our Australian made beeswax candles you help beekeepers, farmers and regional areas as well,”
she says.

Over the years she has formed relationships with her beekeepers and farmers which she says is vital to maintaining the high standard of her products that include tea lights, pillars and tapers and food wraps. Queen B was the first company in Australia to make beeswax food wraps by hand.

“I think of Queen B as being in primary production and our relationship with our beekeepers and the regional communities they live in is absolutely paramount,” she says.

“If our beekeepers are experiencing drought, then so are we. If bushfires are affecting the forests where our beekeepers place their bees to forage, that affects us too. It probably doesn’t affect us that immediately or directly because I always sit on about a year’s worth of beeswax in store, but it affects me as someone who cares and chooses to stand by their side and be counted.” 

As well as the vagaries of drought and El Niño, Cate is also concerned about the varroa mite, an external parasitic mite that attacks and feeds on honeybees and is considered one of the most damaging honeybee threats. A significant varroa mite infestation leads to the death of a honeybee colony.

“Varroa becoming endemic in Australia feels catastrophic to me because I think like my beekeepers.

“The reality is that the price of Australian beeswax is down by about 40% on the world market which on the surface would seem to be a good thing for Queen B, but anything that isn’t good for our beekeepers isn’t good for us. I would far rather that Australian beekeepers didn’t have to deal with varroa mite and everything it entails and pay the world’s highest price for our beeswax than have the current situation.”

Cate has a very strong and passionate relationship with her beekeepers.

“I do have enormous faith in my beekeepers but that is not a religious or blind faith – it is a faith that is earned through extensive conversations, visiting their operations and through experience.

“I have been ripped off by beekeepers in the past – I had one beekeeper who was putting pebble stones into his blocks of wax, but you only get one chance with me when it comes to trust – I am very black and white on that.”

A recent Monash University study into the impact of light exposure on mental health has backed up Cate’s long-term belief about the impact of pure beeswax flames on moods and wellbeing.

More than 87,000 people participated in the world’s largest study on light exposure and its effect on mental health and discovered that increased exposure to light at night increases a person’s risk for psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, bipolar and PTSD severity as well as self-harm.

The study, led by Associate Professor Sean Cain, from the Monash School of Psychological Sciences and the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health in Melbourne, also found that increasing exposure to daytime light can act like a non-pharmacological means for reducing psychosis risk. It’s about getting bright light in the day and darkness at night.

For Cate, the study backs up 20 years of anecdotal experience and feedback and adds scientific backing to the importance of using pure natural candlelight at night for mental wellbeing.

She says the flame of a Queen B candle always “blows her mind”.

“Not only because I know the expertise that has gone into creating it – from the wax we source to the proprietary way in which we clean our wax, to the mind boggling amount of wick testing that we do to find the right wick but also because we get to work with what was created completely by nature in a process that I don’t think a sci-fi writer would even dream up.

“The bottom line is that female worker bees – the body shape and wingspan of which means they shouldn’t be able to fly – regardless journey to tens of thousands of blossoms to suck up flower nectar and collect pollen which is ripened into honey. The worker bees then consume this honey and extrude beeswax through wax glands on their abdomen by a factor of 10 to one, that is they consume 10 grams of honey for every one gram of pure beeswax they make. This provides the basis for the world’s original and purest form of light.”

The beeswax Cate uses in her products is mindfully sourced from Australian bees and beekeepers throughout regional Australia, then cleaned for 48 hours and distilled to its purest form. It is so pure it is edible, according to Cate.

When making wraps, the beeswax is mixed with other locally sourced products such as pure cotton, organic coconut oil and tree resin.

Over the years Queen B has collaborated with high end companies including WWF Earth Hour, Cartier, Dom Perignon, Dinosaur Designs and Liberty fabrics.

When she’s not rolling candles and working in her Northern Sydney warehouse, Cate enjoys gardening and cooking as well as the company of her adored Portuguese water dog, Magpie.

Although she’d like more people to discover the positives of pure beeswax candles and support beekeepers and farmers, she’s pleased she took that advice about finding a hobby, all those years ago.


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