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 wiradjuri country capertee

 Capertee Valley photo by Diane Simmonds


 The Capertee Valley is on the outskirts of the Mudgee region, toward Lithgow. It includes Glen Davis and Glen Alice, both very historic villages. The Valley is the largest enclosed Gorge in the Southern Hemisphere, being almost 30km across and sitting about 800m above sea-level and until recently, a hidden gem. The area has recently been re-discovered by tree changers wanting a peaceful refuge from Sydney’s busy lifestyle. Its present economy is farming and mining, plus whatever the often semi-retired professionals bring to it, whether artists, writers, IT communicators or in the hospitality industry.

The valley features Pantoney's Crown, which can be viewed from Pearson's Lookout on the main Mudgee to Sydney road. Pantoney’s Crown was named after William Pantoney, who was a member of James Blackman’s exploration expedition in 1821. The Gardens of Stone National Park sweeps up Pantoney’s Crown and north of the valley, the conical top of Tavan Pic reminds viewers of its volcanic origins. Mount Gundungaroo’s massive cliffs at the entrance to Capertee Gorge also help set the stage of a mystic volcanic wilderness. The Capertee River, although mostly dry these days, travels the Wollemi Wilderness and joins the Wolgan River to form the Colo River. The gorge extends for more than 100km, said to be one of the longest gorges in Australia.

Historically, the Capertee Valley was a sleepy, peaceful abode of the Wiradjuri people until white settlement, when the Wiradjuri people suffered horrific slaughter and annihilation (recorded in my Wiradjuri Nation site); particularly after Martial Law was declared against the native people.  

Sir John Jamison settled a cattle station, ‘Capita’, in the mid 1820s. He was joined by the Corlis and Gallagher families in the 1840s, who established sheep and wool farms. In the gold rush days of the 1850s, gold was found in the nearby Turon River and settlement began in the present village of Capertee around a good source of water nearby. The settlement was called the Capertee Camp, which fostered James Sherbey’s inn in 1870 and the Post Office in 1875. The old lock-up, which was built in 1897, can still be seen behind the present police station. The railway came in 1882; then a tent school was founded, replaced by a pre-fab building in 1883. The first hotel was burnt down twice, and the present hotel, built in the 1930s, was built with some of the sandstone from the second building, which was built around 1895. The hotel was previously a Cobb & Co stop, offering travellers to Mudgee rest and refreshment, and a change of horses for the coach.

Mining continued to bring the area employment, with good mineral resources of coal, limestone and oil shale. Oil shale was first discovered around 1865 by local grazier BR McLean. The first shale oil lease was granted in 1891 to MPI Mining Development, but it later abandoned the scheme. Oil Shale was discovered at the village of Glen Davis in 1873 and the first mining tunnel was built in 1881, with other mines opening around the area, including one on Blackman’s Crown. About 140,000 tons of oil shale was extracted from the area between 1896 and 1903, but by 1913 mining had almost ceased.

During The Great Depression, people came to the area and built mud huts along the Turon River in an attempt to find affordable housing for their families and possibly a job in mining. But in spite of the mining decline, the villagers must have been so struck by the beauty of the region, many stayed, albeit some of them in very meagre housing that included some people living in caves in the cliff faces and other innovative abodes.

So the school and the village of Capertee struggled on, the school having 82 pupils in 1920. The present school was built in 1923, replacing the old 1882 building. Recruits in the Kookaburra March during World War I camped on the floor of the school en route to Sydney. Fifty two local men joined the WWI armed services - a very high proportion of the population. The present Memorial Hall was built in 1951 as a tribute to the 80 men who enlisted in WWI and WWII, the bricks taken from the abandoned shale mine at Torbane.

Airly Village, about 8km east of Capertee was founded, mining being the attraction there, and Torbane had about 200 men working there by 1898. In spite of the Torbane mine petering out, a new venture built an aerial railway to the Torbane siding in 1924, but it also fizzled. The Newnes mine closed in the early 1920s, leaving Capertee as the only source of oil for Australia. A committee began to investigate the feasibility of sourcing the oil in 1933, leading to the formation of the National Oil Proprietary Ltd in 1937, which led to the old oil shale tunnel at Glen Davis of 1881 being re-opened at the eastern end of the Capertee Valley. The mine was opened in 1938 and the town called Glen Davis after the GF Davis of the Davis Gelatine company who founded it. In the 1940s, Glen Davis grew to a population of about 2500 people, about 1600 of them employed at the mine. A pipeline was built to storage tanks at Newnes Junction, following the route of the railway line which was removed in the 1940s. In 1940 the first oil was produced and in 1941 some 4,273,315 gallons were produced, with 170 miners being employed. Supply was scarce by 1949 and the end of government support via the Chifley Labor Government, combined with crude oil available from the Middle East, closed the works in 1952. Open-cut coalmining in the area also began to dwindle as cheaper mines were founded overseas.

The wartime petrol shortage caused the Government to organise a revival of oil shale mining and treatment in 1940. Mr. G, F, Davis of Davis Gelantine undertook the proposed development and a new company was formed (National Oil Pty. Ltd.). Much of the equipment from the abandoned Newnes oil shale works was transferred to Glen Davis.

A pipeline was built so that products could be pumped to storage tanks at Newnes Junction. The pipeline followed the route of the Newnes railway line which was removed in the 1940's. In 1940 the first oil was produced and in 1941 some 4,273,315 gallons were produced. 170 miners were employed.

Although the mining industry waxed and waned, the villagers would not give in, turning their hand to whatever they could. Survival came from the railway, with wool freight being lucrative during the Korean War (1950-53) and railway crews swapping shifts in the valley. Once again, the decline of wool prices in the 1960s, the introduction of diesel trains, and cattle farming becoming popular, caused another shift in fortune. The revival of coalmining in the late 1970s brought another rise in expectations, but by 1980 coalmining in the area declined once more, as did an open-cut gold mine in the valley. Airly presently supports a diamond mine and coal mining is once again becoming a force in the region. The region now changed from its early mining economy to a region of natural beauty and profitable farming pursuits, providing an ecological refuge for both humans and nature close to Sydney. Many tree changers have come to live in the valley, bringing with them new skills, often facilitated by the IT industry.



The site for Glen Alice Cemetery was donated by John McLean of Glen Alice Station for a Presbyterian Church, manse and cemetery in the 1860s. His young daughter was buried there in 1845. The cemetery has had significant restoration work in recent times in the Presbyterian portion. For more information on the graves there, including a list of names buried there, go to

For more information on the papers relating to the William John Gibbes trust go to the State Library site at: 

William John Gibbes was the son of Col. John Gibbes. He married Harriet Jamison, daughter of Sir John Jamison. The State Library papers refer to grants to Sir John Jamison. Lieut. C. Menzies and Rev. Cartwright.  Also documents relating to Capertee and Cullen Bullen among other places. Also documents, newspapers and correspondence concerning the Gibbes and Jamison families.

For a map of the Roxburgh County 1843-1846, including Rylstone and the Capertee Valley, go to the National Library site at

The following information was submitted by Stuart Pickering:

I was very interested to come across your Mudgee District Local History website recently. Late last year I began a website at which focuses on places and their history; in recent times this has had a special focus on the Blue Mountains and related themes. I am also personally interested in the Mudgee area as some of my forebears lived at Apple Tree Flat and there is a connection on my wife’s side with Henry Lawson. I am writing at this time because a comment on the Unhurried Traveller website (one of the first, in fact, as the website is only becoming known gradually) enquired about the origin of the name Pearson’s Lookout. I wondered whether it might be a name from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century and whether perhaps it is connected with the cyclist Joseph Pearson (1849-1939) who went on cycling expeditions in the area. I went through a number of Pearsons in the Australian Dictionary of Biography and he seemed to be a possible candidate, and I found some newspaper articles about two of his cycling trips. I find he produced a cycling map for NSW which might be informative but I have not found it accessible online. This might be a quite incorrect line of enquiry but I have not been able to find definite information on the topic. I came across an old map of the ‘Coco’ Parish (if that’s the right name) from the 1880s but I’m not sure if that is the relevant parish. The comment is at     I am writing to enquire whether the historical connections of the name Pearson’s Lookout are well known or whether you would have advice as to how the topic could be best followed up. Regards, tuart Pickering



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Capertee Valley in a storm photo by David Petrikas. Thank you David for this magnificent photo.

Capertee Information:       B&B web
Capertee Valley Alliance blog
Bruce's Photo blog    -
Capertee Valley Photo blog


The Mudgee Guardian; 

The Mudgee Guardian