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Flat out in Capital country

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CHANCES are you'd probably never stumble across Captains Flat by accident. Situated 60km south-east of Canberra, you could be mistaken for thinking there is nothing out in these parts besides a few cows and strings of telegraph poles.

Well, you'd be wrong. Captains Flat is one of those surprise packages that make Australia's rural regions such a joy to discover - secret gems of personality tucked away in stunning scenery.

Several kilometres out from Queanbeyan, along Route 52 or the Kings Highway, Captains Flat Road emerges on the right.

Taking the turn, you move from slick bitumen to snaking rural back roads in Canberra's hinterland. The road meanders alongside pastureland and the Yanununbeyan National Park.

You'll want to take a look at a map in case you're lost - but fear not, the only 'town' you pass on your way is Carwoola, which isn't so much a town as it is a bus shelter.

The first you see of the former mining hamlet of Captains Flat is the local entertainment area, Wilkins Memorial Park.

The day I visited the copper-ringed baked soil, several local families had set up camp under banksias and gums at the complex, flanked by the town's 25m outdoor pool, a rugby union ground and synthetic cricket pitch. Here, the barbecue took pride of place in the shadiest area to protect all the men from alcohol-induced heat stroke while the women basked in the sun.

The road into town is skirted by train tracks, yellow pastures, the occasional cow and plenty of warning signs like “Dumping: it's dumb” and “Do not tailgate: Kangaroos randomly jump in this region”.

A miniature railway, already set up, was on display and for sale on the side of the road. The locals are trusting as well.

Spending the night in Captains Flat means your choice is limited to the local hotel, complete with the Southern Hemisphere's longest bar, all 32 metres of it. Captains Flat pub is the hub of the town but there is much more to this sleepy hollow that was once a bustling mining town of more than 3000 people in the late 1800s.

A museum lies at one end while two art galleries lay opposite the pub and are an interesting inclusion to a town that was once dominated by wiry miners.

Quaint and quirky

VIVI Muchmore is a woman transfixed not only by painting portraits but by exploring her own sexuality through art, and is well worth a visit if not just for a chinwag.

The other gallery, The Outsider Coffee Lounge and Gallery with hosts Christine Simpson and Gunther Deix, offers a fine food dining affair and a tribute to Australia's murder victims. As you do.

Viennese born Deix's artworks look like they are based on pointillism or aboriginal styled work but, on closer inspection, the dots are love hearts.

Keeping in theme with the national capital's infatuation for roundabouts, circular roads and concentric planning, if you follow Captains Flat Road to its extremes, you will find your way back into Canberra.

On your way back you can stop at the equally quaint township of Braidwood, the vineyards of Bungendore or the natural beauty of Queanbeyan.

If you want to break up your journey, Braidwood has several quality accommodation options including the Mona Country Manor, Snow Lion Bed and Breakfast, and the Araluen Old Courthouse Bed and Breakfast.

Getting there

■ Captains Flat is 343km south of Sydney and 60km from Canberra

■ To contact the Captains Flat Hotel, phone (02) 6236 6201

■ For the Yesteryear Museum phone (02) 6236 6295

■ The Outsider Coffee Lounge and Gallery is open Friday to Monday from 9am to 5pm. Dinner by appointment. Phone (02) 6236 6160



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