Words: Jane Rawson
Image: Rob Blakers
The walk to Lake Rhona is one of Tasmania’s iconic hikes. Long a trail known only by word-of-mouth, this eight-hour one-way walk to a glorious alpine lake reminiscent of Pedder has recently become more prominent thanks to social media. But while more hikers are setting out to see Rhona’s quartzite shores, not many of them know their track passes through a privately owned nature reserve. Even fewer know that the reserve exists, thanks to the Russian Revolution, fountain pens, and a community fundraising effort.
On the Parks and Wildlife Service map of the hike to Lake Rhona, a small green rectangle marks Gordonvale Reserve, now owned and managed by the Tasmanian Land Conservancy (TLC). This rectangle was once the home of legendary backcountry man, Ernie Bond. Gordonvale, known last century as ‘the Bushwalkers Rest’, was a well-used stopover for walkers on their way into the wilderness, a place of comfort and respite.
Gordonvale sits in the Vale of Rasselas, part of the Traditional lands of the Pangerninghe clan of the Big River nation. This area was continuously occupied by Aboriginal people for at least 30,000 years before Europeans arrived. After white occupation (Ed: An occupation which involved 30 to 50 members of the Pangerninghe clan and Leenowwine clan—another of the Big River tribes–being massacred by armed soldiers and convicts in 1804), some of these Europeans grazed sheep in the Vale, building a bridge to get their stock over the Gordon River. Then a revolution on the other side of the world transformed the Vale. Russia had once been the main source of osmiridium, a naturally occurring alloy needed to make fountain pen nibs. The Russian Revolution cut off supply to the rest of the world, and the only other place where the mineral was found in quantity was in this remote area of Tasmania’s Southwest. Miners flooded in to take advantage of the spike in demand and prices, but at this distance from Hobart, food and other supplies were hard to come by and wildly expensive. In 1934, Ernie Bond gave up on mining and settled in what is now Gordonvale, taking up hunting and planting a remote market garden so he could sell food to the mining community. The bridge over the Gordon made his business possible and, over time, his welcoming and outgoing nature made his homestead a staging post for prospectors, hunters and bushwalkers.
By the 1950s Ernie was a celebrity among scientists and hikers, and his Bushwalkers Rest was the stuff of legends. But by 1952, both the mines and demand for osmiridium had dried up, and
the bridge had burned down, so Ernie called it quits and moved into town. The Hobart and Launceston walking groups took over Ernie’s buildings and used them as a hostel, but the maintenance was more than they could manage; the site deteriorated dramatically. In 1987, an American businessman bought the property and, after his death in 2007, his children put it up for sale five years later. The buildings had all but vanished, leaving nothing but a few farming implements and some stone foundations. The bush, though, was flourishing, with tall wet eucalypt forests merging into gullies of rainforest.
This was an iconic property with significant built heritage, surrounded by the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park; it seemed too risky to leave Gordonvale’s future to the will of the property market. In 2012, the TLC stepped in and started raising money to purchase and protect it for conservation.
The TLC—a non-profit organisation supported by public donations—was founded in 2001 to protect nature on private land in Tasmania. Many of Tasmania’s unique plants and animals don’t live in national parks, so the TLC looks after threatened species wherever they’re found. They do this both by working with land- holders, and by buying and protecting areas of high conservation value across the state.
The campaign to protect Gordonvale took place over two years. The Australian Plant Society of Tasmania and the Hobart Bushwalking Society got involved, drumming up support among their members and the wider public. In the end, more than 600 people gave generously to ensure this area could, in 2013, become a nature reserve. They were motivated not just by the human history of the land, but by its importance for conservation.
Gordonvale Reserve covers almost 81ha. It sits in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, and the landscape around the reserve is a world centre of diversity for velvet worms, amphipods and crustaceans, including the 250-million-year-old mountain shrimp (Anaspides tasmaniae) and the rare Hickman’s pygmy mountain shrimp (Allanaspides hickmani). Flanked by the spectacular vistas of Great Dome and Wylds Craig, the undulating buttongrass plains, riverside woodlands and the forest of Gordonvale Reserve are habitat for some of Tasmania’s iconic and fabulous animals, including the nationally endangered Tasmanian devil and the threatened ground parrot.
2023 marks the tenth anniversary of the founding of Gordonvale Reserve. In caring for this reserve over that decade, the TLC has done extensive work to maintain its natural values. Weeds have been removed, and the property is monitored to ensure the species that live here continue to flourish. As the walk to Lake Rhona becomes better-known, the reserve and its surrounds are increasingly showing signs of pressure from visitors. The TLC has established 25 reserves across Tasmania, covering more than 18,000ha. Reserves at Skullbone Plains, in Tasmania’s eerie central highlands; Tinderbox Hills, protecting forty-spotted pardalotes just outside Hobart; and the Vale of Belvoir, in a stunning landscape near Cradle Mountain, see regular visits from walkers eager to experience the landscapes and species the TLC has conserved. But Gordonvale Reserve is a little different. One of the TLC’s most popular reserves, it is inadvertently visited by hundreds of people every year who are unaware of the community passion and the science-based conservation management that has gone into preserving this very special place. The Bushwalkers Rest is special to many, not least the plants and animals that live here; balancing the needs of nature and those of nature-lovers will be a fascinating challenge in the years to come.
MORE INFO: The Tasmanian Land Conservancy is an independent, not-for-profit organisation supported by donations from the public. It protects nature on private land, both on reserves and in partnership with landholders. The TLC’s network of reserves around the state is selected using the best available science and managed in perpetuity to support nature to thrive. Find out more at tasland.org.au