The below article was originally published in Graziher Magazine, an amazing publication which is, as they put it: "A collection of women's stories. Women of the land; women who love the land; women who know the land."
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WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY MANDY MCKEESICK
Modern day hedgewitch Ellie Jackson infuses a little bit of magic in her natural body products from Ellie’s Range.
For many people, to be called a witch would be considered offensive but for Injune’s Ellie Jackson, it is not only a compliment, but a way of life. Ellie describes herself as a hedgewitch - one who blends the medical and spiritual herbal arts with a deep respect for Mother Nature - and she uses this ideology in everything she does, from kahuna massage and transference healing to the creation of natural organic body products. “Ever since I was a little girl, I have been drawn to the natural environment,” she says, “and have learnt to respect its strength and fragility. I am conscious that what I do impacts the world around me.”
Ellie grew up in Kippa-ring Redcliffe, but when she was 18 and working behind the bar of the Royal Hotel in Roma, she fell for a rodeo man and life took a much different turn. She married Russell and moved to “Maintop”, 37km northwest of Injune in Central Queensland, to begin a family and a journey through modern witchcraft.
Her connection to the natural environment was strengthened through gardening as she transformed the Maintop yard into an impressive Australian Open Garden. She coerced Russell to drag sandstone boulders from the paddocks for landscaping, planted trees and shrubs and beautiful natives, and grew vegetables and herbs for the kitchen. This led to the study of herbs and their uses - Ellie describing them as Nature’s medicine kit - an interest in naturopathy and a qualification as a bush flower essence practitioner.
Ellie also delved into the spiritual arts, with a belief in holistic life-force energies. These are concepts not easily understood by the general population, but to Ellie they come simply from nature. “Healing is magic,” she says. “Seeds are magic. It is about the energy of things.” She became a reiki master and a kahuna massage specialist and since 2010 has been a transference healer. “Transference healing unites science with spirit,” Ellie explains, “creating alchemy using energy, light and matter.”
For the last 12 years Ellie has been funnelling these energies into the creation of soaps and body products. She initially began experimentation in a small room under her house but, “When Russell glimpsed the warning on a recipe about the extremely volcanic consequence of incorrectly mixing the ingredients, he became quite nervous about my workshop being directly under our bedroom,” she laughs. “In no time at all, a new shed was built for the cars, and I moved into the old one. I transformed the shed into my own laboratory/factory, and the real fun began.”
Ellie’s Range is named in honour of the Jackson’s organic beef property, which sits astride the Great Dividing Range, and is a collection of chemical-free, plant-based, natural body products, including her colourful signature soaps, lip balms, hot oil treatments, shampoos, moisturisers, body scrubs and baby products.
Into the soap recipes go a mixture of oils, including macadamia, avocado, hemp (for Dopey Goat soap!) and coconut, drinking quality goat’s milk and caustic soda. Natural mineral pigments are added for colour and aromatic oils lend heady scents. The soaps look and smell good enough to eat. “Soap is actually a salt that goes through a chemical change over several weeks, at which stage the caustic is gone,” Ellie says. “Then you probably could eat it, because it’s all natural.”
Soap making is a frantic experience. Ingredients are strictly measured, oils heated to specific temperatures and, akin to a witch’s cauldron, all are mixed in a large metal pot. “Once you start, you don’t stop,” Ellie says as she dons a protective face mask. “One lady wanted to spend a day with me to learn how to make soap, but as she watched me measuring the oils and the caustic, she decided it was easier to buy it.”
When the day is done, Ellie takes time out on the appropriately named Witchy Hill, a peaceful place on Maintop. Around her left wrist she wears Atlantasite beads, believed to bring peace to the environment. On her right forearm is a tattoo, which depicts her spirituality; a declaration to the world that this is who she is. She burns sage to cleanse the air, and then her hands play upon a kangaroo-skin medicine drum, lovingly crafted by Ellie and adorned with crystals and colours marking the points of the compass. “Think of a hedgewitch as the medicine woman, or wise woman, of the village,” she says. “Someone to whom people would turn when ill in mind or body. In a past life I feel I was I hedgewitch in Peru, going around with my little donkey healing everyone.” As the sun slips away and the medicine drum sends its song across the land, Ellie makes it is easy to believe in witchcraft.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MANDY MCKEESICK