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Susan & Paul's story...


Susan Capan, was born in Elsternwick, near Melbourne, Victoria and grew up in Hampton Park, which was then a little country town, an hour south of Melbourne. She always wanted to be an artist, from at least age 4, and loved drawing above all else. She was twenty years of age when she met her future husband Paul, in 1975, at a barn dance in Hawthorn. (Younger one's reading this probably won't be familiar with this type of dancing, in a circle, where you get to meet all the other people, one by one. Much easier to meet others than in a nightclub with dancing and loud music) Paul had only been in Australia 9 years and Susan couldn't understand much of what Paul said, because of his accent, but didn't care, and went home that night and told her mother, she had met the man she was going to marry! (Although she didn't mention it to Paul, ha ha)

Susan and Paul, once married, (yes it did work out) bought their first home in Dandenong North and then found there was a highway to be built very close to the back of their house so sold up and decided to move to Belgrave with their first baby daughter, to the home of Puffing Billy, (old famous steam train), in the leafy and cool Dandenongs, south-east of Melbourne. They hunted for a block of land and then built their house as owner builders, to save money. Susan got her first taste of designing a house and she enjoyed it and it became the first of many.

They had their second daughter, while living there and Susan loved the bushy outlook and used her creative skills to make clothes for her daughters, become a good cook, decorate the house, make a nice garden and do some artwork. The first winter though, was terrifyingly cold, as they had no central heating, just a big fireplace but high ceilings which made it difficult to warm the house up adequately.

Then two years later, Paul got invited by a friend, who had handbuilt a caravan, and wanted to bring it up to Queensland, so he asked Paul to accompany him for the drive. Paul and Susan had never been to Queensland, so Paul took up the offer, leaving Susan behind for a couple of weeks.

When Paul arrived home again, he was full of stories about how lovely Queensland was, with it's beaches, palm trees, sunshine and people out in the cafe's. He was hooked and convinced her to sell up and move there to live. Susan said she would only go there to live if they had treeferns, as that was one of the reasons she loved the Dandenongs, lol. She found them very inspiring with her artwork.

They sold their beautiful house that they had built, with soaring timber ceilings and open plan design, and had all their furniture taken away in the removal truck. They packed up their van and trailer with the rest of their stuff, ready to leave in the morning and planned to sleep on the carpet with just pillows and blankets and then leave early in the morning. That night the bushfires in the area got worse and the heat was unbearable. It reached 45 degrees Celcius at midnight and black ash was falling like snow outside. Neighbours on both sides fled and the people who bought the house rang continually checking the house was still there. We didn't know how bad it was, or we would have left for sure. We got up, after not much sleep, to head off, to Queensland, and as we travelled north we passed blackened properties, one after the after, and were totally shocked! That was ASH WEDNESDAY!

They had no experience in big car trips over long distances or reading maps and chose what looked like a shortcut through Casino and then got totally lost, ha ha. They ended up going through the NIghtcap National Park where the road got narrower and narrower and the rainforest left no verge of grass, as it encroached right up to the edge of the narrow bitumen and the canopy leaned over, making a dark tunnel, turning daylight into night (hence the name?) and then going over the border to Queensland to be stopped by a very bemused border guard who just asked if we had fruit etc. and who luckily totally ignored all their precious plants in the trailer, which she couldn't bear to leave behind, not knowing how well they grow in Queenland's warmth.

By 10pm they finally got to Beaudesert, totally exhausted and not knowing how much further they had to go, so managed to find a hotel for the night. Of course it only took another hour, the next morning, to find the caravan park in Ashmore, which was to be their home for the next six months, while they looked for a block of land to build on and for Paul to find work as a housepainter. When they did arrive that day in Queensland, it was February 1983 and the middle of it's hot humid summer. What a shock! Susan felt like they had come to the ends of the earth and the sky was almost navy and hanging very low and the humidity was immense. They perspired like never before and then settled into the caravan park ready for their new life.


They explored the Gold Coast from one end to another and decided they liked Ashmore. They quickly put a deposit on a nice elevated block, just off Ashmore Road, which had a nice outlook towards the hinterland, (and Tamborine Mountain). Surfers Paradise was nicer then, and they would often walk the streets in the balmy evenings with their young daughters in a stroller

and loved the climate and holiday feel of the area and shops. Their daughters also loved the big old fashioned Merry Go Round in Grundies, particularly.  

Within six months they had built their third house, designing it carefully in an open plan style again and then putting in a lovely swimming pool, in which their daughters learned to swim very quickly, only coming out for meals, at Susan's insistence, but would have stayed in if they could. They were as brown as berries and stood out next to their Victorian cousins, when they went back to visit, which they did when the family drove down each year. Finally when there was nothing left to do on their small block of land and the small view they had, had been built out after a few years time, so they sold up again and managed to find another nice block in a new estate, on the other side of Ashmore Road, called Paradise River, not far from the Nerang River and larger at half an acre with a better outlook to the hinterland than they had before. This time they designed and built a lovely old style Queenslander with plenty of room and another swimming pool for the girls. It was such a pretty house that salesmen or others would knock on the door and then when leaving, say 'Don't ever sell this house, it is so nice!', which was kind of them. They lived there for about six happy years but had seen a block at Highland Park, near Worongary, with the best view ever and were dreaming of building again.

This time they had a little more money, so could make it even nicer. The builder told Susan, she couldn't have everything and especially a view from each and every room. This was something Susan was used to being told and so set out, with her artistic designing skills, to prove the builder wrong. The views were truly fabulous and you could see Coolangatta right through to Stradbroke Island, and so worth fighting to see them from every room and this was accomplished. This house was even more open plan than before and they included a large stonework fireplace, and high ceilings and pool for the girls. Each midday, like clockwork, the sea breeze would rush in and cool the air in the house. In fact the house was so elevated and breezy that one day someone knocked on the door and once opened a cool rush of air came to greet them, and they exclaimed how nice the aircon was, which had never needed to be installed, ha ha.

Susan had always taught art classes for about 20 years by then and created her own artwork, entering many exhibitions around the coast each year. Soon she decided that her ultimate dream would be to build her own gallery, but where? They had visited Tamborine Mountain two or three times a year but it seemed a little far and the road put them off, being so twisty and steep. So they dismissed that thought, and instead tried to seek a suitable spot anywhere from Tweed Heads to Brisbane. While they tried to sell the Highland Park house in a housing slump, the search went on for a couple of years but nothing felt right and then they decided to take time off from the search and head up into the mountains. Halfway up the mountain, they turned to each other and said 'This feels so right!'. They spent a blissful day exploring the mountain and checked out a few properties as well. One property they drove past, had a for sale sign, and surprisingly it was the same real estate agent that was selling their house.

They rang him and found out the property had been on the market for a long time and was going to go to auction. It was four and a half acres, nice and flat with an old barn, horse paddocks, an old A-frame cottage and a Nissan hut, (which is a long rounded shed like a giant tin can) It used to be a riding school and then just used to agist horses. The grass was so long that you couldn't see the lay of the land, there were car tyres everywhere, fallen trees and snakes! It was all too much so they looked elsewhere. Then they checked with the council on the zoning of the mountain and realized that property was marked for Tourist Facility, giving an option to build the sort of business they wanted to build, including an art gallery.


While their house was still for sale, in the slow housing market, they went to the auction of the acreage property. They had no money and weren't in a position to buy, so just hung back and observed. There were wealthy looking property owners, (to Susan and Paul anyway), looking the part, wearing Drizabone coats and Akubra hats and lots of other people, including a couple of Jewish men with black coats and beards and curly side locks, (whom they later found out were millionaires, but whom had never been to an auction). They watched the auction proceed and to their amazement no one offered a bid! They desperately wanted to have a chance to purchase somehow, so ushered the real estate agent around to the other side of the building, out of sight of the others, and made a ridiculous offer, subject to being able to borrow deposit and loan. The agent went to the owners who counter offered and this went on three times finally resulting in a contract that suited both parties. It was theirs!!!!

Photo shows the A-Frame, after it was painted bright pumpkin yellow to brighten it up on the outside.

They rented out the A-frame cottage and continued trying to sell their house, while drawing up plans and putting in an application for council approval to build a new house and art gallery and small cafe. The council meeting that they went to, to seek pre-approval, were very pleased with what Susan and Paul wanted to do as they said it was more suitable for the mountain than another application from someone earlier, who wanted to build a supermarket there. The house was taking so long to sell though, that they started to despair and ended up putting both the new purchase, as well as their house on the market and offered it up to the universe, as to which one should sell first, as they couldn't go on indefinitely. Almost immediately an unlikely looking prospect knocked on the door one day, (a man with a ponytail, shorts and thongs and hippie beads), who said he was interested in the house! He ended up buying it, for a very low price and Susan and Paul were free to move into the A-frame cottage and begin their new life on the mountain. That was in 1998.

The A-frame was so dark inside. The old peeling lino on the floor was so dark from grime, you could not see the pattern, and the dark beams and timber everywhere made it darker, as well as no north facing windows. They chipped all the vinyl off the floor, painted right through, put in a north facing skylight and another one and tiled the floor in lovely light coloured tiles. They stored all the excess of their furniture from the big house that they had sold for very little money, in the old Nissan hut shed out the back. They also worked every day cleaning up the paddocks. They hauled all the dead trees lying in the grass into a pile to burn and collected all the old car tyres to take to the tip. They tried to pull the old barn down and realized it was extremely hardened hardwood bolted together for eternity, lol. Susan and Paul didn't want to lose the barn, but it was right where the new building was to go, so Paul dug down around each post and then they hired a crane and operator to come and lift the barn and carry it down to a nice flat piece of land further down the property. As it was being removed, a heavy fog rolled in, as Susan stood watching at a fenceline. As the crane, Paul and the barn disappeared from her view, she could see nothing for a little while and then slowly a dark blob came closer through the mist towards her and it was a huge stag head with enormous antlers!!! Susan felt like she had gone back in time as she had never seen a stag or expected to see one, especially on their own property. The stag was as surprised as Susan and hurriedly retreated and was never seen again. Susan later found out that some had escaped from a deer park and were seen occasionally. The stag became a popular subject for her paintings later on. Then the mist cleared and the barn was in it's permanent new place.

The building went ahead, from the design that Susan and Paul had worked so hard on, trying to make an aesthetically pleasing building to compliment the mountain and they built a new residence with an art gallery and cafe kitchen with a large verandah for the public to sit and enjoy the sprawling lawn view over the four and a half acres. It had a huge Tecoma hedge that was about 3mt tall and 2 mt wide that was out of control, so they hired a tractor with a circular saw that could cope with the huge size to trim. Because of this hedge hiding the property they called it, 'The Secret Garden Gallery & Cafe' and they were given a lot of cuttings and bought a lot to make a garden. Susan even did a painting of a neighbour's dogs in return for some plants from their small garden nursery. The locals had watched them, in curiosity, working around the property and when the farm gate was left open, they would often drive in, hoping it was ready for the public to view and then the sign went up and the 'Secret Garden' was born.

There was barely any money left, after building the gallery, so Susan hung all the paintings she had done, in the gallery section and began picture framing for the public. Paul was still doing housepainting jobs here and there, Susan was teaching art classes, Paul cut the grass and they both maintained the gardens. On the weekends they would run the cafe, with Susan doing all the cooking, and Paul doing all the coffees and drinks. It would be either very quiet or very busy, depending on many factors and you just wouldn't know which it would be, which is a common problem on Tamborine Mountain. So they couldn't really afford to employ. Susan's homecooking was popular though and they did meet a lot of wonderful people over the years, some of whom remain friends to this day and it was fun but hard work, but they didn't make much more than to just cover their bills. Then a few years later on Mother's Day from about 11am, people started pouring through the door to be seated for lunch and the place was packed, but still more people were coming in! Paul and Susan started to panic and had to tell people the cafe was full, to stop them coming in. The orders came in and poor Susan was flying around the kitchen trying to cook and then flying back out to write down new orders and so on! Paul was working hard on the coffee machine and preparing milk shakes etc. One by one they went through the orders and apologizing to people, when taking the food out, saying they were doing the best they could. They only had one lady come out and ask for a refund, saying she had waited too long, (even though they were doing all orders in turn) so they refunded her and then she rudely said she would never return. Everyone else was wonderful but they were dead tired at the end of the day. Anyone who has been in the food business will tell you it is the hardest job, and to only do it short term or employ lots of people, ha ha. Even though they loved the property they were exhausted and decided to see if they could sell and maybe start again and just have a gallery with more constant traffic, such as in Gallery Walk.

They put the property on the market and it sold in just 6 weeks!

4. Found a house we wanted in Gallery Walk

In no time at all, settlement was looming, and Susan and Paul, had nowhere to go to. Their plan was to get into Gallery Walk, but nothing was on the market, so they madly looked around and found a little A-frame cottage in Forest Park at North Tamborine. It wasn't they wanted but they thought it had potential and they would be able to renovate it, which they did. It was very drab so they painted the walls strong citrus, yellow/lime which brought a sunshiny feel in. Every week they walked up and down Gallery Walk looking for a spot to build a new gallery and got to know the people there. One older house that they used to walk past, sometimes had two women and a man working in the garden, so they would cheekily peer through the big wrought iron gates and chat and then ask if the owners were ever going to sell? They said no but Susan and Paul would say hello to them after that, when they walked past. That house was next to a row of enormous pine trees and the property had it's name on a little sign on the front which read, 'The Pines'. The owners did get annoyed by the public asking about it and if they would sell so they had stuck some concrete gnomes facing backwards to the street with their pants down, ha ha. About five years later Susan and Paul were delighted to see a for sale sign go up, but sadly it was much more than they could afford so they continued with their renovations.

5. Ghostly happenings.

They were in that house for a few years and finished renovating and finally sold it, but still hadn't found a place in Gallery Walk, so they bought another one in Lahey Rd. on half an acre and the garden was full of enormous shade houses and a big glass house. It was a big job cleaning it all up and they sold all the shade houses to some pig farmers from Toowoomba who removed them, except for the glasshouse of course. It had a lovely patch of rainforest in the front, making it very private and a big self contained studio to the side. It had been an orchid nursery owned by an older couple who had died, (in the house, they later found out). They renovated that one and doubled the size of the house, replaced the old roof tiles with corrugated sheets and opened it all up inside and built a large timber deck to overlook the garden, full of beautiful camellias in every colour. They had almost finished renovating, when one night Susan was working out in the studio, before retiring, and Paul had gone to bed early, when she heard him yelling! She ran into the house and found him with his pillow and covers under his arms, off the bed, stomping into the lounge room and complaining loudly that he couldn't sleep with all the noise of someone yelling in his ear and banging on the bed! They had also jumped on him, he said. Susan was gobsmacked and Paul was a total skeptic who didn't believe in ghosts but it was hard to refute with what was happening! Paul made up a bed on the lounge and Susan tried to sleep in their bedroom to see what happened, and received the same treatment! There were loud 'Whaa's' into her ear and then she felt a heavy body jump onto her heavily, which made her all her stomach muscles go tense, as they do when someone jumps on you, and he was sore for a week! These occurrences went on for weeks and they realized they would have to move out, but then Susan remembered one of her friends whom she might call on, who was experienced with this sort of thing, being psychic, so she rang her and got her to come and see the house.

6. The cleansing - Susan's psychic friend, Lynette, came and admired all their hard work, exclaiming on each room, how nice it was and then stopped suddenly in the hallway, which was where the previous owner's bedroom had been, she stared in disbelief and told Susan to come and put her arm in that corner of the hallway. It was freezing cold! Then she started conversing with an invisible presence. She told the presence (or ghost), to slow down, as apparently he was talking at a million miles an hour. He was angry and said he was unhappy with people moving into 'his' house and he wanted Susan to contact his daughter and make things right. He was quite happy 'living' there himself, on his own, until Susan and Paul turned up and radically changed everything! Lynette tried to explain to him that he had passed and told him, 'Think about it, when was the last time you had something to eat?', which stopped him, as he suddenly realized it had been years, ha ha. Then she told him to look around and his family, who had passed, would be there, in the light and to go with them, which he did, thank goodness. Susan and Paul found out later the previous owner had died in the house and his wife had died there previously too. Paul was now no longer a skeptic and they both knew and understood a little more about earthbound spirits of people passed who didn't know how or just didn't want to move on. The feeling was completely different in the house and no more nightly disturbances.

With the house cleansed and the renovating all done, they put it on the market, but again it took quite a while to sell. In the meantime the property that was for sale in Gallery Walk had a price reduction, which made them hopeful, so they went ahead and made an offer which was rejected. They waited and made some more offers and finally had one accepted. It was theirs! They rented it out then, as it was very hard with two mortgages and eventually they sold the Lahey Rd. property and able to move into Gallery Walk!

7. Renovating the house part

Finally they could move in and have a really good look at the house. They were happy to discover solid, hardwood, timber floors under all the old lino and carpet, that had never been polished! The previous owners were two sisters and one of their husbands. It was their parents home before them. Their mother had been a mad rock collector and we found a rock wall, they had built, full of amethyst and citrine pieces and in the garden were lots of interesting small rocks that had been discarded everywhere. Susan carefully collected them all and displayed them in a little built in glass door cupboard that was already there.

The sisters's father had worked at Enrights Sawmill, down in Beaudesert, for a long time and brought pieces of timber back to build on and enclose the verandah etc. It was like a rabbit warren! Room after room and there was a big 7 x 6mt craft room, at the back of the house, that he had built for his daughters, which became Susan and Paul's new living area. It had high windows (you couldn't see out of) and lots of built in bookshelves and an enormous brick fireplace, which they covered with sandstone (and a couple of the crystalsl) They also ripped up the 'lovely' 70's, burnt orange carpet and laid tasteful, large creamy tiles, knocked the windows out and put in cedar French doors and a large window to let the light in and look out over the garden and paddocks with Jacarandas behind the property.

8. The first shop tenant

Paul knocked down the front of the building, removing the old kitchen, study, bedrooms etc. to make way for the gallery and shops to be built. He would be up on the roof with his trusty crowbar, saving all the old hardwood, and see someone from the Gold Coast that he knew, walking past in the street whom he hadn't seen for years and would call out, much to their surprise seeing a madman waving to them from the roof.

All that was left now, was the old concrete slab, from the garage to be removed and where they had set up a couple of chairs and a table to sit at, when a man came walking down the street and walked in, asking what was going to be built. They told him and he said, 'Wait right there, while I get my wife!'His name was John and his wife Karen, and when they came back they sat down with Susan and Paul and said they had been looking for the right shop for their business, in the street, for two years. Susan and Paul told John and Karen how they were going to build the shops and make them as nice as possible and then showed them the plans. John and Karen wanted to sign up for a shop right away! They used to have a nice shop in Noosa and also in Marina Mirage so they were very experienced so they were signed up, amidst all the building rubble, and before the building started, ha ha.

Karen and John opened a beautiful French style homeware shop, named, 'Tamborine Living' and they stayed for five happy years, and had planned to stay much longer, but Karen became ill and sold the business to another lovely local lady, Lee Symmons, who runs it successfully today and has it looking great too.

The building was started in August 2009 and finished before Christmas 2009. There was a grand opening which attracted at least 100 people including all the shop keepers, friends and locals who were curious to see the finished result, and including popular local jeweller, Matt West, who had a shop at the south end of the street and would later move into the shop on the other side of the gallery in 2014.

9. Running the gallery

Slowly and steadily, the hard way, lol, I learned about running a gallery and gained some wonderful artists work to include with my own work and have a lot of loyal customers, both local and interstate as well as international, who come back every visit to Australia or get something sent over to them. Some lovely locals have running laybys, and come into make a payment but see another one they can't resist, so add it to the layby! I have been commissioned many times for a special painting, whether abstract, wildlife or portrait from photos too and made many friends through the business. Some top name artists have also sought me out to be included in our gallery, which is nice. Even though we don't normally have openings and short term displays we have a nice turnover of different works and a good variety of artwork on display.

Now we have been running Capanart Gallery for six happy years and learned so much over that time! We have also made many friends and loyal locals and visitors. We don't hold openings as such (but always a possibility), but have a slow steady turnover of works. Gallery has some beautiful timberware and jewellery, sculptures and various artists,some more renowned and local and my own work.

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