Foundational History

Elm Grove Sanctuary at Goobarragandra near Tumut is a place of majestic beauty in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, Australia.  Founded in February 1983, by Laurel and Edwin Lloyd-Jones LFSF, in the desire to provide a place in which to nurture people and to care for the natural world.

Laurel and Edwin lived in Sydney prior to moving and founding Elm Grove Sanctuary and enjoyed a comfortable life with their two children Jake and Natasha. Edwin, a musician was born in North Wales and came to Australia enroute to a position with the Toronto Symphonic Orchestra but he fell in love with Australia and decided to stay. He then married and raised his family becoming a successful business owner enjoying his musical pursuits through his passion with jazz and participation with various orchestral groups.

Laurel, a Social Worker had grown up within a difficult family situation that well equipped her to understand the challenges that people face in their lives. When she suffered a cardiac arrest during major surgery in 1980 this event turned her life, and also her family’s, upside down. It connected her to an experiential consciousness deep within that she knew she could not ignore and so began an exciting adventure for her, Edwin and their children. This was a mystical adventure that is told in full in their book The Elm Grove Story’ – a mystical journey, available from several book suppliers, for example:

Amazon Australia, BooktopiaDymocksFishpond

Founding a Sanctuary

With the setting up of Elm Grove Sanctuary to be a place of ‘rest and solace’ for people, and the care of the natural environment, came an immense workload, many early challenges, heartache and some self-doubt. But there was also much evidence that if they only sought the greater good for all, then things would unfold as intended. They were frequently left in deep awe at the miracles that unfolded and in time a small community of committed people formed and connected with their vision.

Elm Grove Sanctuary Trust/Limited

In 1987 Edwin and Laurel gifted their property and founded the Elm Grove Sanctuary Trust. Set up initially as a not-for-profit company (limited by guarantee), it was listed by the Australian Taxation Office as a charity. A board of Directors was formed by Edwin and Laurel, as they invited Peter Sands, Michael Reid, and Sheila Scott to become the initial core group. Over the years this board has expanded and changed to include others. The current board is listed on the About Us page.

Structures were formed

Accommodation mud-brick and timber buildings were built for guests and community members. Help came from all over Australia and from overseas as people heard about it by word of mouth.  An interview of Laurel and Edwin by Carolyn Jones for ABC Radio National’s program ‘Search for Meaning’ brought a huge response. People were eager to assist and much more than buildings were created as a diverse group of people connected to the vison, sharing in the joy of creating and working together.

Nature Chapel – This was created in the grove of elms, with the rushing Goobarragandra River flowing through it. This simple chapel provided a beautiful space for quiet moments of prayer and meditation, shared gatherings, and weddings. It became known as the St Francis’ Chapel due to Francis’ great love for the natural world and the sacredness of all creation.

A Franciscan Spirituality

The Community of the Little Followers of Saint Francis – a widely ecumenical community – was founded on Easter Sunday 1991 by Sr Laurel, Br Edwin, Rita Reid, and Michael Reid.

The inspiration for founding the community came through prayer and discernment as it was recognised that in their shared life together and purpose there was a close alignment to the lives exampled by Francis and Clare of Assisi. The community was invited to become a member of the Franciscan Federation of Australia.

Catholic Archbishop Francis Carroll and Anglican Bishop George Browning accepted the invitation to become the community’s Bishop Protectors/Guardians. Both Bishops are now retired. The community is profoundly ecumenical in its broadest sense and the Bishops as Protectors held no ecclesiastical power over the community. They freely offered their much-valued support and counsel and came to be greatly loved by the community.

St. Clare’s Chapel of Hope

In 1994 a mudbrick and granite chapel was built and named for Clare of Assisi. Clare’s life was expressed in a more enclosed space and the community were grateful for this enclosed chapel as life in the Snowy Mountains can be very cold in winter. When the chapel was completed, it was co-blessed by both bishops on 9th April, 1994. On this occasion Brother Edwin Thomas, Sister Laurel Clare and Sister Mona Jeshua (Tyler) made their Life Professions, called to their vows by Sister Joanne Fitzsimons, Abbess General of the Order of St Clare and co-blessed by the bishops. Sr Anne Christina (McLeod-Nibbs) made her Life Profession on 17th November, 2000, called to her vows by Sr Laurel and co-blessed by the bishops. Many other people became associates of the community over the following years.

Bahloo Cottage

This octagonal mudbrick building, designed by Br Edwin, was purpose built for people who came in need of comfortable and easily accessible accommodation. These included those facing life-threatening illnesses, aged and physically challenged people, families and individuals who came for counselling. It was funded partially by Elm Grove having received a grant to provide training for long-term unemployed young people. It was an example of sustainable building design and it gained valuable support from the local Tumut Shire Council during its construction. It was co-blessed by both Bishop Protectors on 28th February 1998 which was the 15th Anniversary of the Sanctuary’s founding.

Counselling, Support and Trust in God’s Providence

Sister Laurel provided counselling for those who came seeking assistance. All services provided at Elm Grove Sanctuary were offered on a donation basis to ensure that those who unable to contribute financially were not excluded. God’s providence was never found wanting. There was always enough, and no more than enough was needed.

Yindi Ecology & Spirituality Centre (Saying YES to the future)

Imagining the next stage of development in November 2000 we held a forum of interested associates and directors to explore further our next proposed project for Elm Grove Sanctuary.

With the choice for our world to listen to science, technology and economic development we saw that humanity had a moral and ethical need to become a sustainable society and to this end we sought to provide balance of educational and spiritual development, especially for our young people, to explore and find solutions for our world and our co-dependent future.

We envisaged the Yindi Centre as a place where science and our spiritual core might come together to explore and re-assess our human connection with all of creation. In engaging together in shared work to become a self-sustaining centre, we planned to intentionally offer educational opportunities for research so as to find a new way forward to creating a sustainable world. In seeing the earth as a sacred community of which we are part, and In living amongst the majesty of creation, we knew that Elm Grove would provide a deeper and inner connection to the Spirit. We knew then that this was an urgent need, and we certainly know now that if our planet and our future is to be secure, we must change how we are living on this beautiful planet.

This proposal when presented gained unanimous approval-in-principle from the Tumut Shire Council.

2001 Brings Major Challenge and Acceptance

Due to age and health challenges in 2001 Edwin, Laurel and the board of directors very reluctantly made the decision to offer the sanctuary for sale after offering to gift it to several educational institutions. Sadly, several thought that the workload was too immense, and some were even clearly suspicious at such a generous offer.

Following the sale, the new custodians Blair and Rhonda Montague-Drake lovingly and respectfully continued to care for this very special place. Contacting Edwin and Laurel to ask what the ongoing vision was for Elm Grove. They “wished to continue to allow this to unfold” and generously they continued to offer space for physical and spiritual renewal of guests and continued to care deeply for the natural environment.

In 2019, once again due to age, Blair and Rhonda Montague-Drake decided to sell Elm Grove. Their awareness of the importance of finding the right new custodians was very evident. Aware of the significance and importance for the original Indigenous inhabitants and spiritual custodians of the site they held this discernment respectfully.

Contacting Laurel and Edwin in late 2019 to say that Ben McCabe (Director of the Augustine Academy) and his brother Patrick, were looking to purchase Elm Grove. The Augustine Academy – founded in 2016 to cultivate a love of learning; not merely as a means to a job, and to inspire young people to love truth, goodness and beauty – the Academy offers students an integrated study of the humanities in the core subjects of philosophy, literature, history, and theology.

Laurel and Edwin realised that Elm Grove would provide the perfect setting sited amongst the awe and wonder of the natural world and, as the Academy’s educational aims were focused on youth, that this might resonate with their vision for the Yindi Ecology and Spirituality Centre.

The Little Followers of St Francis

As Franciscans, committed to their vows of service, the community now lives widely dispersed both in Australia and in the UK. They continue to endeavour to live within their personal commitment to caring for all people and for God’s natural and wonderful creation. Many associate members do so as well.

What is happening at Elm Grove Sanctuary today?

With the move of the Elm Grove Sanctuary Trust to the far south coast of NSW we have held firmly to the belief that God will continue to lead loving custodians to that sacred place so that it will be lovingly and respectfully cared for on into the future.

Both the Augustine Academy, and a new faith-based community the Elm Grove Sanctuary Community are residing and working there. We hold their intentions in our hearts and prayers as they seek to provide a loving and respectful welcome to all who visit.

Augustine Academy and the Elm Grove Sanctuary Community

The Augustine Academy offers students aged 16+ a Certificate IV in Tertiary Preparation – through the Liberal Arts. Students begin their year of study in the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome and continue through to the modern era, studying each period through the lenses of the core subjects: philosophy, literature, history and theology.

Below is the photo from the Welcome & Blessing Ceremony held on 8th March 2020. The Elm Grove Sanctuary cross was gifted to Ben & Eliza McCabe.

Check out their website:

and their Facebook page:

Should the reader be interested to visit the Academy, a warm invitation from Ben has been extended and you may contact him by email at

Elm Grove Sanctuary Communitythis newly founded community is a group of people committed and passionate about living in community and working, living and praying together. They see their work as reaching out to and caring for those who face disadvantage in their lives. They have expressed a desire to support and welcome the traditional owners of the area and an intention to run programs that benefit and encourage all people in their endeavours.

Check out their website:

and their Facebook page:

Should the reader be interested to visit Elm Grove Sanctuary Community, a warm invitation from Patrick has been extended and you may contact him by email at