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Pearsons Lookout offers outstanding views of the Capertree Valley and Gardens of Stone National Park
 

Capertee (including Capertee Valley and Glen Davis)
A small town on the edge of the largest enclosed valley in the Southern Hemisphere.
Capertee is a quiet little tablelands village, located 186 km north-west of Sydney and 42 km north of Lithgow. It sits on the peak of the Great Dividing Range, about 800 m above sea-level and has a population of about 180 people. The water from the western slopes flows west to the Murray while the eastern slopes drain into the Pacific Ocean. Grazing, farming, timbergetting and the local mines and power stations constitute the basis of the local economy.

The district was occupied by the Wiradjuri people prior to white settlement. The first European in the immediate vicinity was James Blackman who journeyed north from his depot at what is now Wallerawang towards Mudgee in 1821. Blackman's Flats and Blackman's Crown still bear his name. As they traversed the steep slope of the latter, the party would have seen the Capertee Valley stretched out below them.

Sir John Jamison, a wealthy grazier and entrepreneur, established a large cattle station known as 'Capita' in the 1820s. The Corlis and Gallagher families fled Ireland's potato famine and took up land in the valley in the late 1840s. Both established enormous sheep properties focused on wool-growing and exerted a great influence over the valley.

One of the few sources of good water was found near the intersection of the roads north to Mudgee and east into the valley. A resting place developed here, known as Capertee Camp.

In 1851 a 48-kg gold nugget was discovered in the area by an Aboriginal prospector and other finds were then made on the Turon River and nearby creeks. This greatly increased traffic on the Mudgee road and inns began to appear. Capertee village sprang from one such inn - James Shervey's, which was known to be in existence at Capertee Camp by 1870. A post office opened in 1875 though by 1880 there were still no more than a dozen buildings in the village.

The railway arrived from Wallerawang in 1882. Consequently Capertee acquired a school; albeit in the form of a tent, which was replaced by a pre-fab building in 1883.

More importantly, the railway enabled the exploitation of the area's known mineral resources - coal, limestone and oil shale. The latter was discovered on the future site of Glen Davis in 1873. The first mining tunnel at that site was established in 1881 and other mines began to open around Capertee in the 1890s, including one on Blackman's Crown.

Capertee naturally benefited from the economic activity although there was little development other than the opening of a police station, lock-up and courthouse.

Two other small villages soon sprang up around the new mines - Airly Village, about 8km east of Capertee and Torbane which acquired a railway siding. By 1898, about 200 men were working on the Torbane project. It is thought that between 1896 and 1903, 140 000 tons of oil shale were extracted. For shelter the miners used caves formed by erosion in the sandstone cliffs.

However, shale production went into decline around 1903 as it is the nature of oil shale seams to narrow out rapidly from the section of greatest thickness and hence to soon become uneconomical to pursue.

By 1913 work at the mines had virtually ceased. A new company did build an aerial railway to the Torbane siding and established a retort in 1924 but it was a short-lived venture. Nonetheless the population did not go into a rapid decline. Locals sustained themselves by sundry ventures and, despite the hard times, enrolment at the school peaked at 82 in 1920 (it was down to 9 in 1970).

During the Great Depression refugees from the high rents and unemployment of the cities built mud huts and camped along the Turon River.

After the works at Newnes closed down in the early 1920s agitation increased for a reopening of the Capertee works as it was the only source of oil in Australia. A committee was set up in 1933 to investigate the feasibility. Its report in 1934 led to the formation of National Oil Proprietary Ltd (NOP) in 1937. Although the committee recommended re-establishing the Newnes works, the other option was eventually chosen - that being the old oil shale tunnel established in 1881 at the eastern rim of the Capertee Valley (i.e., Glen Davis).

The degree of government assistance and concessions indicate that the enterprise was to be of no great commercial success. Looming war may have increased desire for independent fuel resources but the proposed production levels were not that significant. Nonetheless the works were opened in 1938 and a town of about 2500 people quickly developed around the works which employed 1600 people at their peak in the 1940s. It was named Glen Davis after the Davis Gelatine interests who headed NOP.

Supplies were already running out by 1949 and the end of Chifley's Labor Government meant the end of heavy and on-going assistance from the government. Costs were high, output was low and cheap crude oil was available from the Middle East. Consequently the works closed in 1952. The machinery was stripped in 1953, leaving the ruins which remain today.

Open-cut coalmines had also been established in the valley but these began to dwindle in the postwar years due to competition from continuous operation mining overseas. Nonetheless Capertee again survived. A heavy tax on road freight greatly benefited Capertee railway station. Furthermore wool prices soared during the Korean War (1950-53) and changes in working hours for rail crews resulted in crew changes taking place at Capertee where many took up accommodation.

However, in the 1960s, wool prices declined, the introduction of diesel trains changed work patterns on the railways and local sheep farmers suffered from a new emphasis on cattle. Consequently the town diminished significantly.

In the seventies, some of the old properties were subdivided and sold as hobby farms and retirement retreats to city dwellers, bringing people into the valley, though mostly at weekends. When oil prices increased after 1975, coalmining took an upturn and new mines opened, though the industry has been in decline since the mid-1980s. An open-cut gold mine briefly operated atop a mesa in the valley though it closed in the early 1980s due to the collapse of gold prices. A diamond mine is now operating at Airly.

Things to see:   [Top of page]

 

St Judes Catholic Church built out of corrugated iron
 

Capertee Village
The highway is the main street. There's a school, a police station (the solitary policeman covers a territory of about 5000 square kilometres), the adjacent courthouse, a memorial hall, a bushfire brigade, a post office, a railway station just off the highway, the pub, a garage and a couple of tiny churches.

Life centres around the pub and the school. The pub first appeared around 1870. It was burned down twice and the present structure (built in the 1930s) incorporates some of the sandstone from the second building (c. 1895).

The school was opened in 1882, although the present school house dates from 1923. The Kookaburra army recruiting march of 1916 camped on the floor of the Capertee school en route to Sydney. During that war 52 local men (a goodly proportion) joined the armed services.

The memorial hall was built in 1951 as a tribute to the 80 men who enlisted in the wars of the 20th century. The bricks were collected from the abandoned shale refining retorts at neighbouring Torbane. The old lock-up (1897) can still be seen behind the modern police station.

 

Pearsons Lookout
Just 2 km south of town, on the Mudgee Rd, is Pearsons Lookout. It furnishes outstanding views of the Capertree Valley to the east. Nearly 30 km across it is the largest enclosed valley in Australia. Rising dramatically from the valley floor is Pantoneys Crown, a column-like, flat-topped mountain, named after William Pantoney, one of the members of the first European expedition through the area - that of John Blackman in 1821.

 

Gardens of Stone National Park
Recently gazetted, the Gardens of Stone National Park includes Pantoneys Crown Nature Reserve. It is a very beautiful wilderness area of limestone outcrops, precipitous sandstone cliffs, pagoda-like rock formations and a diversity of fauna and flora. The area is ideal for bushwalking, particularly in the MacLeans Pass area, although there are no marked trails nor facilities (be sure to take a map and compass). You can walk to Pantoneys Crown from Baal Bone Gap.

The access road is pretty much 4WD-only. It is signposted 'Gardens of Stone National Park' at Ben Bullen where the Mudgee Rd crosses the railway line. It leads through to the Wolgan Valley Rd which heads north-east from Lidsdale to Newnes. For further information and a map ring the Blackheath National Parks and Wildlife Service Office, tel: (02) 4787 8877.

 

Turon Gates Camping Area
Just 1 km north of Capertee is a gravel road on the left that heads west for 12 km to the Turon Gates Camping Area on the Turon River (where gold was discovered in the 1850s). There are log cabins and camping sites, with opportunities for horseriding, canoeing, fishing, sailing and bushwalking, tel: (02) 6359 0142.

 

Glen Davis
Glen Davis is an old shale-mining ghost town on the Capertee River, 35 km east of Capertee at the eastern rim of the Capertee Valley.

The first mining tunnel, established in 1881, later became the basis of the major mining enterprise which opened in 1938. A town of some 2500 people developed around the mine, which was named Glen Davis after the Davis Gelatine interests who headed the mining consortium (for further information on the mine and its history see the general introduction to Glen Davis).

The operation closed down in 1952 due to high costs and the increasingly small output, leaving what remains today - crumbling furnace ruins, retorts and collapsed shafts covered in vegetation and surrounded by steep sandstone cliffs and a profuse array of birdlife.

Glen Davis has a picnic-barbecue-camping area with an amenities block and a privately run museum with displays relating to the town and shale mining history. It is usually only open on weekends and entry is free.

There is a bushwalking trail (22 km return) to Newnes up the Green Gully, in the Wollemi National Park, following the old pipeline track. There are lyrebirds, cycads, banksia serrata and assorted eucalyptus. Information on this walk is available from the museum.

Broadwalk Business Brokers

Broadwalk Business Brokers specialise in General Businesses for Sale, Caravan Parks for Sale, Motels for Sale, Management Rights & Resorts for Sale, Farms for Sale, Hotels for sale, Commercial & Industrial Properties for Sale.

 

Phone: 1300 136 559

Email: enquiries@broadwalkbusinessbrokers.com

 

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Capertee