Skip to main content


Loved into Life - Chauncy Vale Sanctuary

Bush with X factor

I have always found the 200 Km journey between Hobart and Launceston rather bleak apart from the quaint villages which have now mostly been bypassed, or the quirky topiary creatures created by one Jack Cashion while employed as a road worker in the 60’s and 70’s. Perhaps he felt the same way.  Thank goodness for the new tin sculptures being put up by the South Midlands Council which hint at the history which has transpired here.

The landscape you see from the highway

Yet there is another little secret here.  Just off the road at Bagdad, 40 km north of Hobart is the Chauncy Vale Sanctuary. It was Tasmania’s first private Wildlife Sanctuary established in 1946 by author Nan Chauncy and her husband Anton.
Nan Chauncy was born in England in 1900, but came to Australia with her parents and five siblings in 1912. Two years later, they moved to Bagdad, where they laboriously cleared the land for an apple orchard and lived in a slab hut. Though life was hard, Nan took delight in the animals and the bush and the “stories by lamplight” and a life which was such a change from the starchy middle class life she had lived in England.

 In 1930 she  travelled  to Europe, living on a houseboat on the Thames and spending her winters teaching English in Sweden. On the return voyage in 1938, she met and later married a German refugee, Helmut Anton Rosenfeld.  Since all things German were treated with suspicion due to the war, regardless of which side you were on, she did not take his name, but that of her maternal grandmother. They then returned to the timber and concrete hut built by her father and her brother at Bagdad in 1918/1919.  It had no electricity and no running water, but it was here between 1947 and 1969, at the manual typewriter that still stands on her desk, that Nan Chauncy wrote  her twelve novels as well as radio plays and articles about wildlife. 
Perhaps the most famous of her books, since it was made into a film is the children’s story, “They Found a Cave.” This is about two English orphans who suddenly find themselves in the Australian bush to be cared for by an aunt. No doubt Nan Chauncy drew her inspiration from her own first encounters with the bush and the landscape around her. 
Since the book is now celebrating a bit of a revival in honour of its 70th birthday, it seemed like a good time to pressgang my son to take a look with me.

It's a long way up

At first sight the bush around Chauncy Vale does not seem very hospitable. It looks sparse and drab with a few cutty rushes, straggly she oaks and wattles and signs of recent bush fires. Though home to a great variety of wildlife and plants, especially orchids, it’s a bit early in the day for the fauna and a bit early in the season for wild flowers. However, once we heroically embark on the Winter Track it gets progressively more interesting. 


The caves and views are worth it

Stunning views of surrounding hills and valleys unfold as we climb higher and higher. A shrub with dainty pink flowers scents the air as I brush past and at last - after an accidental detour (be sure to take the right fork after the little bridge - not the left, which peters out in the rocks), we come out at the summit where the wind has carved bizarre land forms including the famous caves. No doubt the Aborigines had their own stories for these caves and imbued them with their own forms of spirit and magic. It is as if they speak and whisper of things which the eye cannot see. Of geological time, of tribal memories perhaps, of bushrangers, of long gone children and those who have visited since.

It’s late in the day as we make our way down. It still gets dark early. There's no time to explore the tantalising track that goes to the right, but the bonus is that the first wallabies come bounding by as we wander back along the creek, flanked by mosses and ferns. We also take in Eve’s Bath, another rock sculpture, this time created by aeons of rushing water and possibly ice.  

We are also too late to see Nan’s Cottage, “Day Dawn” but when I called on another day - it’s usually only open on Sundays between 2 and 4 p.m., I was lucky enough to find it open because the caretaker was showing someone else around.
 Despite what must have been a rather austere existence, there were some  touches which hinted at a life well lived – poetry and a painting on the wall from appreciative visitors, musical instruments and books on the shelves, sturdy furniture, the early daffodils and the still dormant lilacs in the garden, expansive views from the verandah, Anton’s radio by the fireplace where he liked to listen to it. Indeed it looked as if the owners had just stepped out for a while and might come back at any moment. No pictures allowed alas, so you will have to come and see it for yourself.

View from the verandah

Although Nan Chauncy died in 1970 and her husband Anton died not long after, they have left a sanctuary for animals and a legacy for others to enjoy and their hospitality lives on. There are picnic shelters and barbecues and you can even camp overnight the better to appreciate the wildlife. According to Maree the caretaker,“It’s a regular mothers' club of wombats, wallabies and possums and their offspring."
[There is a small fee -  $2 to enter the sanctuary and another $2 to view the interior of the cottage, but no charge for camping overnight).

For most of my life I have preferred landscapes which appear to have been untouched by humans. However, on this occasion, the fact that people have lived in and loved a place, finely observed it and cared for it, not to mention immortalising it in fiction, has added depth and drama and made it much more appealing. Indeed, had they not done so, the subtleties of this hinterland would have remained a mystery.