Leonora has a rich history, with the first recorded reference to the area by John Forrest, who named Mount Leonora in 1869. When the town sprang into existence a several years later, it was given the same name.
John Forrest's team camped near Mt Leonora during a search for lost German explorer and scientist Ludwig Leichhardt, in 1869. Twenty-five years later prospectors came to the area, and by 1896 the first claims were pegged by Edward (Doodah) Sullivan at the Johannesburg lease.
The Sons of Gwalia leases west of Mt Leonora had a major influence on the town. It was the largest underground gold mine outside the Golden Mile and operated continuously for 104 years. A young Herbert Hoover (US President) was the first mine manager.
The townsite of Leonora was declared in April 1898, but a large part of the population continued to live on Gwalia leases. Leonora-Gwalia became the largest mining centre in the north-eastern Goldfields, and the town boasted a general store, chemist, tailor, bakery and seven hotels. A rail link to Kalgoorlie was opened on the 20th June, 1902, and the Leonora-Gwalia steam tram line was opened on 6th October 1903, then replaced by a petrol driven rail car in 1916.
Leonora-Gwalia has some classic examples of early 1900s architecture, an old store, guest house and many cottages still remaining. The State Hotel is one of Western Australia’s first hotels built in 1903 at a cost of 6000 pounds. The Museum has fascinating displays on the early history and life around Leonora-Gwalia and the north-eastern Goldfields. The whole Gwalia area was covered in miners huts where families lived, they would travel to Leonora by tram, and their children swam in WA's second public pool. The Museum is open daily from 10am to 4pm. At the museum entrance is Ken, a small locomotive which ran on the narrow gauge 'woodlines' collecting tonnes of Mulga timber to fuel the mining operations.
A good picnic spot 12 kms from Leonora is Malcolm Dam, built in 1902 to provide water for the railway. For the more energetic visitor, 40km north-east are the Terraces - large breakaway rock formations - a good place for bushwalking with magnificent views.
Take a day trip north to Leinster to see examples of pastoral life, as well as old and new mining towns. Places of interest are: the old townsite of Lawlers-Agnew, Mt Sir Samuel, Wanjarri Nature Reserve, Weebo Gorge and Jones Creek which has barbecue facilities.
The Little Miners Cottages were lived in until not long ago, but most were left abandoned when the original Sons of Gwalia mine closed in 1963. The derelict cottages were auctioned off in 1995 to volunteers who restored the buildings using traditional methods and materials.
The Shire administration and government services are based in Leonora because the town is an important service centre for local mining and pastoral industries. Larger mining companies are reworking the old leases with new open-cut mines and establishing treatment plants. Leonora sits at a junction of main roads heading north, south and east, the town is also a railhead for mines, transport agents, depots, contractors and other service industries.
The town has a wide main street, and many buildings exhibit character of the past but with modern facilities and services. Leonora-Gwalia has a variety of shops, as well as service stations, roadhouse, motels, hotels, caravan park, and restaurants. There are excellent recreation facilities: golf course, oval, basketball courts, swimming pool and race track. The dams and creeks provide a haven for bird life and wildflowers. Many amateur prospectors have luck with gold detectors, and some visitors can find a keepsake nugget or even attempt to strike it rich!
Distance from Perth (km): 980
Area (sq km): 183,198
Length of Sealed Roads (km): 101
Length of Unsealed Roads (km): 3,490
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