On a cool October day, with intermittent sun and cumulus in the sky, and jacarandas and silky oaks in bloom, it was time to revisit Buckombil Mountain. This isolated knob of land between Alstonville and Wardell rises up above the fairly flat surrounding country. Despite its name, at about 170 metres elevation it is more like a hill, but still offers some impressive views. Traditionally, my preference for Buckombil Mountain was to park at the bottom, and walk up.
Travelling towards the coast from Meerschaum Vale, the way is signposted shortly after the Bagotville turning. It’s a fairly windy dirt road that becomes bushy, with a steep slope down the hill to the right. I pass a pair of Wonga Pigeons walking by the roadside. Some way further on, the road ends at a Private Property sign. A notice on the fence indicates Telecom Australia, the old name for Telstra. In the distance are telecommunication towers with dishes, and pig sheds. Closer by, cattle graze.
Buckombil Mountain has an interesting history. It was observed from offshore both by Captain Cook in 1770 and Capt Matthew Flinders in 1799, and is reported to have been pictured in J. D. Lang’s book Cooksland, published in London in 1847.
A 1900 edition of Science of Man, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Society of Australasia, indicates that the origin of the name was the Aboriginal Wardell dialect word for black bean tree, whose seeds were widely used by indigenous people for food. Nearby Aboriginals apparently communicated with other groups by releasing smoke signals from the top.
At the time of European settlement, the mountain was considered to be largely red cedar scrub, with the first European selector being a boatman named Peter McIntyre. In 1910 issues of the Northern Star, then owner Norman Hewitt published a classified ad threatening prosecution to people who had been stealing timber from the mountain. During World War II, a beacon was set up as a navigation aid for military planes including those at Evans Head. Around of the middle of last century, the plateau area was used for dairying, with the slopes largely devoted to the growing of bananas and vegetables. At one of the banana plantations owned by Italians, a flying fox was used to transport the bananas off the mountain.
A small privately owned Big Scrub rainforest remnant on the mountain is known as Buckombil Scrub, and is protected in perpetuity under a conservation agreement. Another property is a participant in the Land for Wildlife conservation program. At a third that retains pockets of rainforest, koalas are regular visitors.
Today, Buckombil Mountain has its own concise Wikipedia page which, very bizarrely, is in Swedish. For true connoisseurs of the absurd, there is a note underneath informing that the write-up was created by a robot.
The highest publicly accessible spot has a panorama with views to the north and west. Towards the north, the slope drops down into the valley below, and crosses the Marom Creek – Merschaum Vale road. The map shows that the southern edge of the Victoria Park reserve should be visible somewhere on the opposite hillside which represents the abrupt southern boundary of the Alstonville Plateau. On the far northern horizon, the alignment of hills creates a gap through which Wollumbin is visible in the distance. Off to the north-east are the Richmond River, Pimlico, Empire Vale, and the ocean.
Construction of the Ballina highway upgrade has begun along a route that will bring traffic up to the easterly base of the hill. At present though, there is minimal human-made noise here. Enjoy it while you can.