Country Charm

by John on July 12, 2012

Wolfgang Peak rises from the flat plains next to the Peak Downs Highway near Clermont, Central Queensland.

Country Charm is something most people experience at least once in their lives when traveling in the regional areas of Australia. Rural towns have a friendliness and charm that is different from everyday city life.

We here at Funtours, in partnership with Tanya Ann Photography will be visiting many country towns over the next year or so gathering material for an upcoming digital and hard cover book on this very subject. Country Charm.

We recently spent time in Central Queensland, west of Mackay, in the lovely towns of Clermont and Capella. Both towns are full of that special country charm we seek.

Opposite the historic Commercial Hotel is the Clermont Railway Mural. Railway coal wagons have been painted, depicting the varied agriculture and industries that flourish in the Peak Downs District.

We drove west from Mackay on the Peak Downs Highway, a busy road full of trucks, buses and private cars which service the coal mines near Nebo, Copabella and Moranbah.

The scenery is quite stunning and becomes spectacular as you near Clermont, with the Peak Range National Park and Gemini Ranges prominent features of the landscape. The unusual mountain shapes and volcanic plugs make the drive west a pleasurable experience.

Add the variety of crops grown in the area, grazing cattle and the “new” man made hills of mine overburden, you have something to see that makes the trip anything but boring.

One of the most prominent landmarks is Wolfgang Peak, a 572m high volcanic plug, which rises high from the flat Peak Downs plain and is like a monument placed next to the highway, celebrating life on earth millions of years ago.

Closer to Clermont is a man made mountain where Clermont Coal is operating. The different coloured layers of overburden, soil dug out so that the coal seam is exposed to open cut mining, is a stark and lifeless contrast to the fertile plains that the mine has swallowed.

Clermont is a wonderful friendly town of around 2000 residents. Modern, yet full of history, the town’s wide streets give the feeling of an easy lifestyle, open spaces and clean air. The main feature of the town, Hoods Lagoon, also played a major role in the town’s history when a terrible flood occured in 1916, killing some 63 residents.

The town of Clermont was moved in 1916 from the banks of Hoods Lagoon to higher ground due to one of Australia's worst natural disasters. Some 63 residents were drowned in the terrible flood after torrential rain dumped an estimated 11 inches in just over an hour. There are monuments that show the height of the fateful flood around Hoods Lagoon, warning Clermont residents of the flooding risks.

After the flood of 1916, the town was moved to higher ground, where it stands today. There are many reminders and monuments of the flood, with probably the most famous being the piano in the tree on the road into town which shows the high the flood peaked.

For some fabulous photos of how the town was moved, have a look in the dining room of The Commercial Hotel. The hotel, opposite the railway wagon murals, is the original hotel that was moved to higher ground and has many photos from the time. Just quietly, they also serve some of the best meals in town. Delicious.

Hoods Lagoon is a spectacular site for nature lovers and photographers. Teeming with bird life, fish and native animals, this is somewhere you can set up the tripod and spend days catching the perfect shot. With a path along each side of the lagoon, it is ideal for that morning walk or a picnic lunch on one of the many tables around the natural pond.

What gives Clermont that special country charm is the town folk themselves. Friendly and courteous, they exude pride in their town, it’s history and it’s many local attractions. Their character speaks of solid citizens working together to make life enjoyable for all. I like the way Clermont locals treat you as if you have been amongst them for many years. Not some stranger to be shunned. You come away from Clermont wanting to return soon. Now that’s real country charm.

This is part of the original shearing shed from Gordon Downs Station now on display in the Capella Pioneer Village, one of the best Australian Regional Museums this side of the Black Stump.

Down the road about 50 kilometers or so toward Emerald, is another charming town, Capella. Around 800 people call Capella home and the standout attractions are the Cultural Centre, swimming complex and one of the best museums you could find this side of the Black Stump.

Called the Capella Pioneer Village, the town folk have collected some of the best kept relics of the district. The main building is the former Peak Downs Homestead, built by the pioneer Sir George Fairbairn in 1869.

The old homestead is a remarkable building in which no nails were used in the construction of the walls, Capella Pioneer Village Inc moved and restored the white ant infested relic to it’s new location on Pioneer Street in 1988.

Inside the Capella Pioneer Village, the restored Peak Downs Homestead reminds people of the harsh, yet regal living conditions where richer pioneering families resided.

Today it is like walking into the past with the village also obtaining the historic Gordon Downs Store, a former railway siding complete with carriages, the Gordon Downs shearing shed and shearers quarters, the original power generator that supplied electricity to Emerald and what seems like hundreds of tractors and implements, dating back from the very early days of mechanization.

Capella Pioneer Village consists of about a dozen buildings full of old bric a brac, historic equipment that forged a strong farming district and lovingly restored items that would have been lost if not for the efforts of the wonderful people of Capella.

If you want to see some history, past, present and in the making, take the effort to travel to both these typical country towns, Clermont and Capella. They are both wonderful communities that service the farms and coalfields of the Peak Downs Region, full of Australian Country Charm.

Capella Pioneer Village is open to the public between 9am and 12 noon, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays during Autumn, Winter and Spring.

Admission is $12 Adults: $9 Seniors and Students.

Phone 07 49849425 for inquiries regarding tours or school excursions.



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