Travelling Australia - Journal 2011
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10-11 August 2011 - Capella
Capella is a small town (population 796 in the 2006 census) on the Gregory Highway about halfway between Emerald to the south and Clermont to the north. It is now a service centre for surrounding pastoral properties as well as supporting coal mines in the Bowen Basin.

The area was initially settled by pastoralists in the 1850s after Ludwig Leichardt reported favourably on the area. One early station was named Peak Downs because of its proximity to Peak Range. The first graziers concentrated on sheep until the late 1940s when wild dogs and speargrass prompted a change to cattle. At first European breeds of cattle (Hereford and Shorthorn) were grazed with a change to Brahmin cross breed by the 1970s; Brahmin crosses have better tick resistance than European breeds.
Grain at Capella Capella grain store alongside the main road. The blue sheeting covers grain which cannot fit in the silos in the background. Capella is the centre of a grain-growing and cattle raising area with increasing coal mining activity nearby.

The area remained predominantly pastoral until Peak Downs station was resumed by the Queensland Government after the Second World War to be used by the Queensland-British Food Corporation to grow food for post-war Britain and to open up Queensland's interior for closer settlement and cropping. 11,000 hectares of sorghum was planted in 1948/49 but frost in May reduced the crop. Next year's crop was better but the QBFC 1951 annual report indicated that financial results were disappointing and in September 1952 the assets were transferred to the Queensland Government; the scheme had been wound up by 1955. Peak Downs was subdivided into 69 farms and 17 grazing selections, many of which were allocated to new settlers by ballot in 1956. The new settlers were able to learn from QBFC activities and established the dryland cropping operations of Peak Downs district.
Lighthorse Memorial Lighthorse Memorial beside the highway through Capella. Many members of the Australian Light Horse in the First World War came from the Capella area.

Grazing and cropping now co-exist around Capella, sometimes on the same property. It is not unusual to pass a stockyard on one side of the road with cattle being loaded on trucks and other cattle grazing nearby while there is a crop of sorghum awaiting harvest on the other side of the road. Or to pass a grazing property with a sorghum crop near the road. The Peak Downs district has variable soil types with areas of heavy black or grey cracking clay on undulating plains as well as more fertile dark clay and red-brown earths formed from sandstone and conglomerates. These different soil types are best used for different purposes and for different crops.
Travelling Australia - 10 Aug 2011, Capella - page 2
Capella was formerly in Peak Downs Shire but that shire was amalgamated into Central Highland Regional Council as the Peak Downs District. But the term 'Peak Downs' appears ingrained and regarded possessively by Capella. While driving around the town seeing where roads went I came to the very neat and tidy cemetery proudly bearing the title 'Peak Downs Cemetery'.
Peak Range Peaks in Peak Range

Peak Range is a permanent visual background to activity in and around Capella. This is a series of volcanic rocky outcrops dotted around the countryside rising up from the generally flat ground. Some are cones, some are domes and one (Lord's Table Mountain) is a flat-topped mesa. These outcrops formed underground during volcanic activity between 32 and 29 million years ago but millions of years more were needed to expose them. They come in different shapes. Some are plugs of hard rock which hardened in a volcano vent and remain after the outer parts of the volcano eroded away. Others were formed by molten magma welling up from below but not breaking the surface. There is no definite pattern or centre to the outcrops so they have been assessed as possibly a line of vents and not a single volcano. The Peak Range National Park has been established in several sections to include some peaks but many remain on private property.

Weather was changeable during our stay. We put the refrigerator temperature sensor outside the van one night and it recorded 0°C at 6 o'clock in the morning but then the day warmed to 22°C. Next day was warmer but with a strong and gusty wind blowing dust from the nearby grain storage and making conditions unpleasant.
Sorghum Crop Sorghum crop ready for harvesting. Sorghum and wheat were widespread around the Capella area.

The latest major economic activity around Capella is coal-mining. Sixteen Bowen Basin coal mines operate within one hour's drive of Capella. The town provides accommodation for miners and has adapted to suit mining requirements, the local take-away open at 4 o'clock in the morning so mine workers can have breakfast before they begin the day shift.

This variety of economic activity is illustrated in the traffic along the Gregory Highway through Capella. While sitting having a coffee we saw road trains carrying raw cotton from "somewhere up near Charters Towers" (the best we could find out from locals) to the gin near Emerald; then road trains outfitted for carrying cattle, some full, some empty; then road trains with bins of harvested sorghum; then road trains with wide loads of mining machinery or processing equipment; then road trains distributing diesel fuel. As well as these road trains and other heavy transports was a stream of 4WDs, usually carrying mining works identification serial numbers and, of course, caravans, motorhomes and campers of the tourist industry. A busy and varied collection of road traffic.
Travelling Australia - 10 Aug 2011, Capella - pg3
Capella's attitude to tourism is mixed. The town has an excellent Web site giving background information about the town and surrounding areas (at www.capella.com.au) but does not have a visitor information centre; the small collection of brochures in the newsagent can best be described as meagre and is overshadowed by the useful collection in the caravan park's information room. There seems to be some reluctance to make the Peak Range into a major tourist drawcard. Four self-drive guided tours have been devised to allow visitors to see the surrounding area, including the Peaks; these tour leaflets are useful but not as informative as similar tours in other towns. Winton's River Red Gum Drive comes to mind as a well documented self-guided tour.

On the other hand, the Capella Pioneer Village has been documented and captioned to a high standard we have rarely seen. This village comprises buildings recovered from surrounding pastoral properties and relocated on the edge of Capella.
Peak Downs Homestead Peak Downs Homestead relocated at Capella Pioneer Village and restored. This building makes maximum use of timber and minimum use of metal (including nails).

The centre-piece of the Pioneer Village is undoubtedly Peak Downs homestead built in 1869, mainly from local timber (mostly spotted gum), moved into the village in the 1990s, and restored. This building is a remarkable example of building with minimal use of nails or metal; external and internal walls are of horizontal timber slabs dropped down slots holding the timber in place between vertical posts. The roof is made of spotted gum shakes (shakes are similar to shingles but shakes are sawn, shingles are split); the ceiling is hoop pine. Even the chimneys are of wood externally with a fireproof lining. About the only signs of metal are galvanised-iron ridge caps on the roof and a weatherproof cover on the chimney tops. By the time the building was taken over by the village a galvanised iron roof had been built over the shakes to ensure waterproofing but this was taken off during the removal. Peak Downs Homestead has been furnished with representative furniture.

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