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Capella, QLD

Rural service centre in a rich agricultural and coal mining area.

Capella is a tiny township with the appearance of being a single street with houses and shops stretching along it. The town exists because of a mixture of coal mining and agriculture in the district. The agricultural activity includes the growing of a variety of grains (predominantly sorghum and wheat), sunflowers and beef cattle. Nine Bowen Basin coal mines operate within an hour's drive of Capella.

Location

Capella is located on the Gregory Highway 949 km north-west of Brisbane via Rockhampton and Emerald.

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Origin of Name

When the town of Capella came into existence in 1883 it was named after Capella Creek. The creek had been named in the 1860s by the graziers who moved into the area.

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Things to See and Do

The Capella Pioneer Village
The Capella Pioneer Village is located just off the Gregory Highway at the northern end of town. Today it is a significant repository of Central Highlands pastoral and agricultural history, including Peak Downs Homestead, the largest restored drop-plank construction homestead in Australia.
The Village Collection contains over 5,000 items which have been grouped into the following exhibits:
1 Settlers in the District
2 Central Highlands Wool Industry and Origins of the Great Shearers Strike
This exhibit includes the Gordon Downs station woolshed, its station store and shearer's quarters. Inside the woolshed is an exhibition of the tools used in the wool industry for most of the twentieth century. There are also horse drawn vehicles, a wool wagon, engines that powered woolsheds and bore pumps. It also recounts the importance of the local properties - particularly Gordon Downs and Retro - in the history of the 1891 Shearer's Strike which has long been seen as the origin of the ALP.
3 The Railway Lifeline
4 Wartime Remembrances
5 The Peak Downs Scheme (Queensland-British Food Corporation)
After World War II the Queensland Government wanted to expand agricultural production. In 1948  a delegation from the British Overseas Corporation arrived in Queensland and a Food Corporation was formed to develop the Central Highlands. It only lasted for six years but it did hold 200,000 hectares of land of which 27,000 ha were cropped. The story of the subsequent breakup of the 200,000 ha and the development of the smaller holdings is told in the Village with the machinery that was used - disc ploughs, harrows, tractors, Caterpillars, headers etc - being on display
6 Broadacre Grain Farming
The Capella Pioneer Village annual Old Machinery and Craft Fair is held on the second Saturday of September at the Village grounds. The complex is open from 9.00 am to noon Wednesday to Friday and Sundays during Autumn, Winter and Spring. For more information tel: (07) 4984 9425.

Peak Downs Homestead
The Peak Downs homestead is the highlight of the Capella Pioneer Village. It can be seen from the Gregory Highway and it a masterpiece of the carpentery technology of the time. It has the grace and elegance of a station owner’s home but it was constructed as a simple slab hut using local hardwood timbers prepared with the adze and pit-saw. It was built by George Fairbairn in 1869 using mortise and tenon frame construction. Because nails were not readily available, the single walls consist of 8 inch by 1¼ inch spotted gum boards held in place by grooves in the 4½ inch wall studs, with bracing both inside and out. The planks were cut on a 12° angle top and bottom to prevent the entry of wind and rain. There are no nails in the walls. It is the largest restored pit sawn, drop-plank construction homestead in Australia. The roofing is a remarkable demonstration of pioneer ingenuity. The roof is sawn local hardwood shakes (shakes are sawn, shingles are split), and the ceilings are lined with tongue and groove hoop and bunya pine.
When the spotted gum shake roof developed leaks, a huge umbrella-like iron roof was constructed a metre above the shakes. There were separate posts to support it. This not only gave the homestead a striking appearance but it is said the homestead with its separate roof was 10° F cooler in summer. The 80ft (24.4m) long front veranda was a cool haven on hot summer days and would have been used for sleeping on hot summer nights.
In 1988, the house which had stood on Peak Downs station for 118 years, was moved to the Pioneer Village. Mr Clarrie Otto, his assistants and volunteers began restoration work in 1989, using local spotted gum timber. He completed the restoration in 2001. Total funds needed to restore the homestead were in the order of $125,000. Replacement value of the homestead today, using the original building methods, is over $1,000,000.
Charles Maclean acquired George Fairbairn Jnr's interest in Peak Downs station in 1902. In the 1920s the station was acquired by the Peak Downs Pastoral Co. which sold it in 1948 to the Queensland - British Food Corporation. In 1956 Peak Downs was subdivided by the Queensland State Government into farming blocks of approximately 5000 acres (2000ha) and opened up for selection.

Capella Creek Nature Walk and Geo Park
The Capella Creek Nature Walk is a track from the Gregory Highway (just to the south of the bridge and over the road from the Pioneer Village) which runs along Capella Creek for a kilometre to the now buried weir (it was used to provide water for the steam trains). It then circles across the creek bed and back down the opposite side. It includes the first section of the Capella Creek Bird Watching Area where over 120 woodland bird species can be spotted. For a map and much more detailed information check out http://www.capella.com.au/capella-creek-nature-walk. On the south bank of Capella Creek is a wall made from igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks collected from the Peaks District. It is known as the Capella Geo-Park.

Capella Parklands
If you take the concrete pathway from the Capella Creek Nature Walk, cross the Gregory Highway, walk past the Peak Downs Homestead and the Pioneer Village you will be walking on a pathway which takes you into the town via the impressive and unusual Australian Light Horse monument - a series of two silhouettes of horsemen and a steel depiction of a Light Horseman with an emu plume. The path winds pleasantly past picnic locations and small boab trees until it reachs the town's historic railway station and memorable toilet mural.

Capella Railway Station and the Toilet Mural
The very modest Capella railway station was built in 1882-83. It has been heritage listed because of its unusual construction with the pitched roof detached from the working area to enable air to flow between the roof and the ceilings - an interesting attempt before air conditioning to keep the work space cooler in summer. Next door is an amusing toilet block with a mural of a typical Australian "dunny" on the side wall. One of the most artistic toilet blocks in the country.

Capella Pole Murals
The telegraph pole and wall murals along Peak Downs Street (the town's main street) were commenced in 2000 under the leadership of Mrs Alice McLaughlin of Childers. They tell the story of Capella’s history. Sadly (and this relates only to 2016) the intense summer heat in the area has seen many of the poles fade. If you want very detailed information on each of the poles check out http://www.capella.com.au/capella-pole-murals which has accompanying descriptions and interesting snippets of history. If you just want to walk along the street the poles, starting from the southern end, they depict:
1. Water Sports/ Aquatic Centre
2. Swimming at the Railway Weir
3. Performance Masks
4. “Children in Concert"
5. Country Women’s Association
6. Baker & Cockatoo
7.The Jazz Singer - Paramount Theatre
8. “Our First People"
9. “Leichhardt at Peak Downs"
10. “Lilyvale Ghost"
11. “Pioneer Women"
12. “Feathers for Soldiers- Emu Plumes and Light Horse "
13. "Sewing Bags of Grain/ Queensland-British Food Corporation"
14. “Wool Growing"
15. “Coal Mining"
16. “Grain Growing"
17. New Years Eve Balls
18. “Trucking Cattle- Road Train"
19. School Participation in Community Events
20. “Grain Storage"
21. “Soldiers and Nurses"
22. “Horse Sports"
23. “Railway Fettlers"
24. Agricultural Exports
25. Beef Cattle and Grain Industries
26. “Swaggie Shearer"
27. “Timber Cutters"
28. “Sporting History"
29. “Water For The Train"
30. “Days of Steam"
31. “Hotel Fires"
32. Australia’s Federation

Capella Dragline Bucket
At the northern end of town, on the corner of the Gregory Highway and Cotherstone Road, is a huge red bucket used on a Marion 8050 dragline that scooped up over 83 millions of tonnes of overburden at BMA Gregory Open Cut Coal Mine. It is a powerful reminder of just how huge open cut mining can be and the size of the equipment needed to remove the coal. When Gregory Mine purchased the CQMS Eartheater Bucket from Central Queensland Mining Supplies in December 2001, it weighed 41,300 kgs and had a capacity of 46.4 cubic metres.
Buckets like this are subject to incredible amount of abrasion whilst in operation. It is common to lose up to 5,000 kg of weight over a continuous life of five months. The buckets are then sent away for a major rebuild which is basically replacing steel portions which have worn away, and any cracking that may be in the castings.
This bucket first went to work on December 14, 2001. During its life it dug and moved a total of 83,564,916 tonnes of overburden material, which consisted mainly of sandstone type strata. To accomplish this, it performed 806,339 dig cycles averaging 103.64 tonnes per cycle.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Peak Range Lookout
The Park Range Lookout is not clearly signposted and is nothing more than a place at the side of the road where you can pull up and view the mountain range. It does have the most remarkable views across the paddocks to the beautiful, blue Capella Peak Range. Located only one kilometre south of the town on the Gregory Highway, it gazes across at the Peak Range, a series of dramatic volcanic plugs which stand like sentinels rising from the plains. The plugs were formed when volcanoes, which erupted some 29-32 million years ago, cooled and the molten lava solidified in the volcanic pipes. The surrounding land eroded leaving only the hard core protruding.
The Isaac Regional Council website notes: "Visitors to Peak Range National Park can enjoy bushwalking and photography, with spectacular geological features, views and historical interest. Peak Range National Park provides a remote natural setting with no motorised vehicle access, facilities or defined walking tracks. The National Park contains four plant species of conservation significance; Acacia arbiana, Bertya pedicellat, Troncinia patens and Dichanthium queenslandicum. Two animal species of conservation significance have been recorded in the area; the squatter pigeon Geophaps scripta scripta and the koala Phascolarctos cinereus as well as sightings of the whip-tailed wallaby Macrophus parryi."

Capella Peak Range
There is an excellent introduction to the geology of the Capella Peak Range on the council's website. It has, in turn, been taken from the Geological Society of Australia (Queensland Division) publication Rocks and Landscapes of the National Parks of Central Queensland by Warwick Willmott. You can check it out at http://www.capella.com.au/capella-peak-range. This is a detailed precis of the entry:
"The Peak Range is a chain of prominent mountains to the east of Capella which is visible from a considerable distance across the plains of the Central Highlands. It consists of groups of sharp peaks separated by flat plain country similar to the surrounding district. When Ludwig Leichhardt and his party first saw the Peaks in 1845, they were impressed with the ‘noble peaks’ and ‘fine ranges … forming a succession of almost isolated, gigantic, conical and dome topped mountains … spread before our eyes.’ Leichhardt named the individual peaks after members of his party or his sponsors.
"The Peaks form a striking backdrop to Capella. The Peak Range district is underlain by an extensive sequence of basalt flows and rhyolite/trachyte intrusive bodies, which were erupted and emplaced between 32 and 29 million years ago (middle of the Tertiary period); probably as this part of the Australian crustal plate drifted northwards across a ‘hot-spot’ deep below in the Earth’s mantle. No definite centre of the Peak Range Volcano is evident, so the peaks may represent a line of vents along the crest of the volcano.
"Only a thin veneer of basalt (about 30 metres thick, with deep soils) now remains on the flat western flanks as far west as Capella and Clermont, but in the range itself remnant hills of basalt flows show that the accumulation was at least in places originally much thicker, of the order of 500 metres.
"Three distinct divisions of the range are apparent. The northern and southern parts generally consist of closely spaced pinnacles and domes of resistant rhyolite and trachyte. These were originally plugs that have been intruded towards the end of the volcano and now rise spectacularly from a subdued countryside, eg Wolfang Peak and Mounts Castor and Pollux (the Gemini Twins). Some of the rocks in the peaks have been altered and softened by late hydrothermal fluids, and these parts have weathered more rapidly to give cavernous features such as at Mt Castor and Mt Macarthur. The origin of some peaks, such as Wolfang Peak is complex, as they possess features of both plugs (steep faces) and of thrust domes (inclined columnar jointing). In general the intrusions of the northern area are composed of rhyolite and pitchstone, while in the southern area trachyte and comendite are more common. Pitchstone is a dark olive-green and splintery volcanic glass that results from rapid cooling of the magma on the side of plugs.
"Some of the higher peaks in the southern area, such as Scotts Peak and Mount Roper, are thrust domes resulting from successive intrusions and upheaval of viscous (sticky) lava pushing up the core of each plug.
"In the central part of the range, prominent flat-topped mesas and ridges composed of flat-lying lavas rise strikingly above the surrounding open downs country. Lords Table Mountain and the nearby Anvil are capped by a flow of more resistant light-grey trachyandesite or trachyte about 30 metres thick, which overlies about 15 basalt benches. From this it would appear that some quantities of lavas, intermediate in composition between basalt and trachyte, were erupted towards the end of the predominantly basaltic activity.
"A good view of Lords Table Mountain and the separated southern extension of Anvil Peak can be had from Huntley Road. A vigorous bushwalk from the road can take you to the saddle between Table Mountain and the Anvil, where the trachyandesite of the cliffs lies on a reddish-brown basalt filled with gas bubbles. The cliffs stop any further ascent for most people. Unusually there is no columnar jointing in the trachyandesite flow; instead there is a myriad of small vertical fractures intersecting horizontal ones along incipient flow banding, resulting in the whole rock mass being shattered into small fragments less than 20 cm across. Views from the saddle encompass adjacent ridges where basalt flows can be seen in horizontal layers.
Small undeveloped National Parks cover Mounts Castor and Pollux (Gemini Mountains) and Wolfang Peak (accessible from the Peak Downs Highway); Lords Table Mountain (accessible from the Huntley Road); and the remnant basalt lavas forming non-accessible Eastern Peak further to the south."
There is a self-drive brochure which is available from the Capella Newsagency.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the land around Capella was occupied by people from the Wangan language group.

* The first European explorer through the area was Ludwig Leichhardt on his 1844-1845 journey through Central Queensland to Port Essington. Leichhardt was the first European to see the volcanic plugs of the Peak Range. He described them as "a range of noble peaks" and named some of them after members of his expedition.

* The Peak Downs area was settled by pastoralists and graziers in the early 1860s.

* Lilyvale (supposedly named after the lilies in the local waterhole) was surveyed in 1862.

* In 1882 the railway line joined Emerald and Clermont. It passed through Capella.

* The town of Capella was surveyed in 1883. The same year a school opened.

* In 1891 the district's population was 83.

* By 1903 it had two hotels.

* A picture theatre was built in 1926.

* In 1930 the town got its first bank building.

* The Peak Downs shire office was completed in 1936.

* Reticulated electricity reached the town in 1954.

* A bulk storage facility was built in 1964.

* A swimming pool was built in 1969.

* The Gregory mine (named after the explorer Sir Augustus Charles Gregory) became operational in 1979.

* In 2003 a 35 km water pipeline from Tieri began to supply water to Capella.

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Visitor Information

Peak Downs Shire Council, Conran Street, Capella, tel: (07) 4988 7200.

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Useful Websites

There is useful historical information about the town at http://queenslandplaces.com.au/capella and http://www.capella.com.au is a website dedicated to the town.

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