Mr. Mountain and Life inside the Volcano

Meet James Mckenzie, the patriarch of one of the pioneering families that settled in the Tweed Valley in the late 1800's. 
For over 6 generations, the Mckenzies have owned and managed over 500 acres of mountain covered in subtropical rainforest & eucalyptus nestled in the immense caldera of an extinct shield volcano - the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. 

The Tweed Valley has powerful volcanic energy coursing through it, an area of great aboriginal significance to many tribes in the region, perhaps this is why many spiritual groups have chosen to make a home here.

James and I met by chance while sitting on the border of his property examining the many crystals and stones I had found in the river that morning. Chance had it that we were in the same place at the same time as luckily James's relatives had sold about 800 acres of land to the Hare Krishna Community in the 1970s, the community that happened to be hosting the yoga teacher training program I was currently attending. 

river stones - crystals  - green jasper - tweed valley volcano - ana petre
james mckenzie tweed valley - ana petre photography

Interested by what I had found in the river and with me pressing to know more about each stone I had found, our conversation started. A fascinating one about life in the volcano and what it means to be responsible for such a large & important piece of land. 

James states that his family have been the caretakers of a mountain with the original aboriginal name Wollumbin, meaning "The Fighting Chief" representative of a totemic warrior and a place of death and burial. The name Wollumbin is one which the government has, in recent years, added to a different peak in the region - Mt. Warning. 

Without getting too into the politics of this region - James has been fighting the use of the name Wollumbin for Mt. Warning since 2006. The Mckenzies have long had close ties with the first inhabitants of the region, the Ngarakwal, Minyungbal and Githabal people, and believe that this is an insult & theft of the true cultural heritage of Wollumbin mountain, a specific site with specific spiritual significance

It is certainly a very special place, that is clear. 

On my first tour of the property, we went to see the aboriginal artifacts that have been passed on through the Mckenzie family - beautiful axes, grinding stones, crystal and jasper scrapers and stone knives, exemplary of the aborigines knowledge and skills working with the land. 

night time on wollumbin - ana petre photography
aboriginal artifacts- ana petre photography64.jpg

That night, I was also introduced to a young couple living on the property - a part of a bush regeneration project that work to remove invasive plants and repopulate the native flora species in NSW. These are just two of the characters James has shared his land with, among musicians, community elders, travellers, and other diverse individuals. Having inherited a mountain, dairy farm & mill, studied Med Tech in school and as a young adult worked as a professional busker, Mr. Mckenzie was a incredibly knowledgable and fascinating man to have bumped into..  

The second time I visited was to see the workshop where Mckenzie and sons build beautiful furniture our of camphor laurel. A tree brought over to Australia from China - valuable as a commercial timber, but extremely invasive with a rapid growth & seed production, out competing other trees and desirable native plant species. Here are some photos from the workshop and the mill. 

Driving up the mountain, we visited a stream on the cliffside with a view of the valley - its water flowing off the volcanic rock. We came across a tree with a thriving example of the threatened native species of pencil orchid. The delicate white flowers growing above a large stone on the cliff where native paper wasps have just recently begun to make their nests again after being threatened by the coming of european wasps. 

pencil orchid - ana petre photogrpahy
pencil orchid 3 - ana petre photography
pencil orchid 2- ana petre photography
native paper wasp nest - ana petre photography

Fighting the light, we made it up to the top of a patch recently cleared for bananas - preserving the rare native onion cedars that have grown in the old agricultural land. Even from half way up the mountain, the view is spectacular.

You could just manage to see the ocean as the evening was coming on. On the way back down the tracks James stopped the car to admire a scattering of fireflies amongst the trees. We paused to smile at the magic and magnificence of the mountain. I was grateful to have experienced it. 

Mt. Wollumbin JamesMckenzie - ana petre photography85.JPG
Mt. Wollumbin James Mckenzie - ana petre photography83.JPG

If you're curious and would like to learn more about the mountain and James' story, you can visit the Facebook page for Wollumbin Mountain.