By Jane Harris and Nick Capel
When Barbara Suzanne Wauch was born on 27 May 1924 in Concord, her father, Alfred Lionel Wauch, was 39, and her mother, Marjorie Constance Ellis, was 33. Sue, as she was called, grew up on her family’s property “The Furnace” in the Horton Valley with her younger brother Andrew Ellis Wauch. “The Furnace”, now named “Arrowfield”, is in the western end of the valley underneath Bereen Mountain.
Sue and younger brother Andy were home schooled at “The Furnace”. They would play tennis and cricket as a break from lessons with each taking turns in pretending they could have been Bradman, McCabe or O’Reilly. However, it was horses that really captured Sue’s attention. Sue’s son Nick says, “Horses were part of the siblings’ daily life at The Furnace, whether mustering sheep with their father, or galloping through the river charging at each other to get thoroughly wet, or riding under the fig tree to feast on figs”. Sue’s passion for horses continued and led her to
ride in local shows where she won many events and to ride in The Royal Easter Show in 1951.
Sue later went on to school at NEGS in Armidale. At 27 she married Peter Mcalpin Capel of Bingara in Sydney. They had two sons during their marriage, Nick and George. Sue and Peter started married life at Yarraman in Caroda with virtually nothing. Their property consisted of one 1,800 acre paddock, originally known as the Paradise Paddock as part of Pallal Station (near Bingara) subdivision.
Sue’s love of gardening had started at “The Furnace” and was able to be continued at Yarraman where bore water was in abundance. Sue established a beautiful garden. The garden fence moved out and trees were always planted outside the fence. Gardening would continue to be one of her passions throughout her life.
“Often in summer the sprinklers were going 24/7 not only to keep the garden alive and George and I cool running in and out, but as the Old Man said ‘breeze across a green lawn was cooler than no breeze at all,’” says son, Nick.
Sons Nick and George spent their early years growing up at Yarraman and attending Upper Horton Public. Sue’s love of horses never left her and as young children her sons also loved to ride. The four Capels would ride up the mountain and have a picnic. Nick recalls his parents would drive to endless Pony Clubs in the holidays and on more than one occasion his mother would change from doting mother to an insistent riding instructor.
“I have many memories of Yarraman,” says Nick. “Mum, George and I would play with our billy cart and it was a real treat when Mum would drive all the way to the local pool in Bingara for a swim in the height of summer rather than the muddy dams of Yarraman”.
Later when a boarder at Kings, Nick recalls their mother would load them up with her ANZAC biscuits, her Vanilla Biscuits and Apricot Slice and that everyone at school wanted some. “The kitchen on the morning we were to return to school, smelled like a French cookhouse rather than the traditional roast lamb and veggies kitchen of Mum’s era”.
In retirement Sue and Peter moved to Mellowood, Loomberah where the garden was five acres. Again, water was plentiful and with a lot of hard work the Capels created a beautiful garden which was open to exhibition as part of the Tamworth Garden Club.
A crucial part of Sue’s life was pottery. In 1969 Sue, along with Colleen Capel, Nan McDouall and Dorothy McKid established The Barraba Potters Guild which became the Clay Pan and is still now a thriving pottery and art gallery in the main street of Barraba.
In 2019, the Clay Pan invited Sue as the guest of honour to a luncheon celebrating 50 years since she, Colleen, Nan and Dorothy established the Guild. Son, Nick, and daughter-in-law Melissa attended the lunch with Sue. They recall they had not seen her so happy for some time.There were numerous photo albums for Sue to look through, bringing back so many happy memories of so many occasions for her.
“Whilst pottery was an outlet for Mum’s artistic talents it also afforded her and the women of Barraba an opportunity to socialise and to briefly remove themselves from the harshness of rural Australia. I could not count the number of pottery mugs, bowls, plates, pots, vases, and everything else in between that Mum made over the years,” says Nick.
Wherever Mum was visiting in Australia or abroad she was always photographed with pottery. “She may have stood briefly at the Trevi Fountain in Rome, but the discovered pottery of Pompeii 79AD had a far greater attraction for her. Whilst the cherry blossoms attract thousands of visitors every year to Tokyo, you would find Mum sitting at a potter’s wheel in Kyoto,” says Nick.
Sue also loved painting, particularly watercolour, and attending any art class she could was mandatory whether it was a class run by her cousin Rupert Richardson, a painting school in the outback or one in the centre of Australia.
After her husband Peter’s death in 2014 Nick would travel to Tamworth from Sydney regularly to spend time with Sue. “We would drive to Manilla, Barraba and Nundle, we would visit antique shops and have a picnic in the car. She would ask if we could drive and see the Jacaranda trees in the middle of November, “ says Nick.
“There was nothing she loved more than going back to The Furnace and our last trip there was in October 2020. We went up to look at the house, the woolshed and visited the Church. More than anything she liked to drive up the mountain, have a sandwich and a glass of prosecco and look down the valley to Yarraman – this time was no different, other than it was the last time she would do so.”
Sue died on 11 December 2020 in Tamworth, New South Wales, at the age of 96.