Wild Mountains began in response to pressures on our environment. Four individuals, Richard and Susan Zoomers, Geoffrey Smith and Kathryn Robertson had been very active in the early 1980s campaigning to save the Franklin River, the Daintree Rainforests and other precious areas of Australia and the planet.
According to Richard, “We became disillusioned that each campaign took enormous effort to mobilise support. They also invariably ended up polarising the community into the “good”guys and the “bad” guys. We thought that education was a far more effective way to move forward. If we could educate children and let them experience for themselves the awesome beauty and power of the planet and understand how it works, then they would make far more environmentally responsible decisions in their own lives. As children and later as adults they would take pressure off the world’s species and resources and look after this beautiful blue planet.”
So in 1985 came together to buy land, vehicles, building materials and tools for an education centre on the Qld NSWborder. This land had been selected by Robert Martin Collins whose foresight, inspiration and drive led to the declaration of Lamington National Park, 2 years after his death, in 1915. R.M. Collins is Susan’s great grandfather. He would approve that this block has passed down to his offspring and is being used for purposes that he no doubt would agree with.
Richard continues ” The realisation of our intended non-profit community organisation was still some ten years away. In 1988 with support of Nick Smith and under the guidance of Bruce Teakle, we began building a beautiful mortise and tenon pole building called Bruce’s Shed. A cast of hundreds of friends came to help on weekends over the next 8 months to make it happen. During January of 1989 we moved in under a roof supported by poles, with walls and floor yet to be constructed. Unfortunately however we soon fell foul of the authorities at the time and found ourselves embroiled in an application to the Beaudesert Shire Council seeking consent use for an education centre here. Despite assurances, we were dismayed to find that we were to be denied. This then led to 2 years of protracted negotiations finally resulting in a decision in our favour in the Planning and Environment Court.
As part of our application to Council we had approached the Queensland University of Technology’s Architecture Department to see if they would like to present their student’s with a semester long project of designing an environmental education centre. After 6 months of work and consultation third year student (and now friend and architect) Emma Scragg came up with the winning design that has been the guiding work for our construction at Wild Mountains.”
At this time Wild Mountains was instrumental in forming the Logan and Albert Conservation Association in Beaudesert Shire in 1988 with Richard and Geoffrey being the inaugural president and secretary respectively. In discussions with the council’s chief engineer Wild Mountains paved the way for composting toilets to be approved in the shire.
From 1993 –1998 new momentum was found resulting in the building of part-time staff accommodation known affectionately as Caddie’s Place. Caddie Bradley was a special and vibrant young woman who loved life and the environment. We first met her as a student at the Youth Earth Symposium program in which Wild Mountains was integrally involved. The Youth Earth Symposium ran for 6 years and gathered together from across the Gold Coast and Brisbane regions, volunteers who were passionate about providing a quality environmental education program for high school students. Each year some 100 students, self selected from over 30 high schools, took part in what was arguably the most powerful environmental education program in Australia… a life changing event for many. It was here that Wild Mountains met Caddie as a young participant. She then went on in the following years to volunteer at furtherYES camps as well as at Wild Mountains. Caddie was last seen by the Wild Mountains crew working on the building after which she was named and not long before she was sadly lost at sea following her passion.
During this period, yet maintaining their support, Geoffrey and Kathryn left the mountain. Meanwhile Joan McVilly had joined as a permanent member of the team living and volunteering her efforts at Wild Mountains. With her assistance the realisation of a not for profit organisation eventuated in April 1998 with the incorporation of Wild Mountains Trust using the legal expertise of Minter Elison’s Bill Thompson and Lachlan Davidson. In moving to a new structure we had many models to choose from. We eventually chose the advantages of a Trust run by a Company Limited by Guarantee. This provided for the perpetuation of the project beyond the lifetimes or involvement of the founding members, non-profit status (the public benefit seen as primary: far ahead of making money) and the involvement of a wider membership with the flexibility to make special provision for founding (and subsequent) residential members. The Wild Mountains’ estate also increased in size to 76 ha after purchasing a next door block of land for the purpose of accommodating more permanent residents on the mountain.
In early 2001 and after years of infrastructure (water, electricity, phones, tracks and much more), a capital fundraising campaign was embarked upon to raise sufficient funds for a main hall and amenities block. Our target: $750,000 over 3 years. We are indebted to the community for their support which raised around $600,000.
“In 2004 we were extremely fortunate to meet with Rob Peagram who then led construction. The result is a beautiful building that utilises recycled materials where appropriate, materials with low embodied energy, onsite environmentally sensitive waste treatment and all powered by renewable solar energy.
Further fundraising directed towards the amenities and for staff support has resulted in progressing construction and the organisation.” Richard shares with us.
With the hall and amenities now functional, focus moved to building accommodation for participants so that programs could begin. Thanks to Ned Hill a team of volunteers went west and dismantled the Dunkerry woolshed using these timbers to construct 4 A-frame huts at the campsite. The“huts”, with a roof over a floor and canvas front and back, comprised of 95% recycled materials were again built by our many volunteers.
The Trust was fortunate to then employ long term friend and supporter Scott Wallace to help guide other volunteers in building and assist on the soon to launch school programs. Then in 2007 Wild Mountains was ready for their first ever intake of students from Boronia Heights State School who attended our 3 day Earthkeepers program.
In 2009 and after 14 years of service Joan decided to leave the mountain for personal and health reasons. Early 2010 has seen Justin and Lizz Hills taking up a trial residency on the mountain as permanent volunteers working alongside Richard, Susan and existing staff members Scott Wallace and book keeper Karen Healy.
We at Wild Mountains recognise the traditional owners, the Midginberri tribe of the Yugambeh language group who lived in this area for many thousands of years. As present custodians we acknowledge their culture and story and endeavour to the best of our abilities to nurture this land for future generations.
And the journey continues…