According to census figures, Leonora has the highest number of single person households in the state. It is also a good
place for single ladies to find single men as 900 of the 1300 residents are men.
Leonora, usually as 'dry as a bone' is sometimes hit by cyclonic rains. These events have happened a number of times
since the area was settled with one of the worst being Cyclone Bobby in 1995 which produced a flood that cut the town
off for 6 weeks. The only supplies to reach the town were dropped at Laverton by the RAAF
and then trucked to Leonora on the only passable access road. Flooding like this seems to happen about once every 20 years.
The town is reasonably well equipped with two hotels, a motel, supermarket, butcher, newsagent/liquor/hardware and
general store, post office, two roadhouses and cafe.
A good bush camping site is available at Malcolm Dam. This is likely to be a dry-weather only site.
The first gold find in the area is credited to a man named Morrissey (1894) but better finds were made in 1896 and the
original town (known as Gwalia) flourished until 1898. After flooding it was relocated in 1900,
3km from the mine and re-named Leonora. The town was developed to support the Sons of Gwalia (Wales) mine that operated
until 1964. The mine was later re-opened in 1981 as the price of gold increased.
The Sons of Gwalia gold deposit was discovered in about April 1896 by the prospectors Carlson, White and Glendinning.
This was only one of a number of finds in the Leonora district in that year, but was to prove the most significant.
The Great Tower Hill mine began operating after a gold discovery by Jim Breen in July 1896.
Initially it did well and eventually produced 18,000 oz's of gold but then the gold suddenly ran out and it ceased
operation by 1908.
The old mining settlement at Gwalia still exists as a museum town. It is a fascinating place to visit.
Edward "Doodah" Sullivan (from South Africa) and his partner Harry Widdick pegged the first gold lease in the Leonora
area in 1896, naming it the Johannesburg Lease.
Other leases were soon pegged and a settlement of hessian and timber shanties grew up rapidly. In December 1896
Warden Owen approved the establishment of the Leonora townsite. (One source says Leonora was gazetted in 1898.)
The town's name comes from Mount Leonora which was named by John Forrest.
It is thought that Forrest named the hill in honour of his neice Miss Phylis Leonora Hardey of Grove Farm near Perth.
Some sources quote the name Frances Leonora Hardey and we are unable to determine which one is correct.
More substantial buildings were soon constructed and a butcher's shop, bank and post office were established in 1897.
The Exchange Hotel was transported from Fremantle in prefabricated sections.
By 1899 there were three hotels, three bakeries and a variety of shops. Police and fire stations, a school and the
Wesleyan church soon followed.
Cobb & Co stage coach service to Coolgardie also began operating.
The weekly newspaper, the Mount Leonora Miner was established on the 8th of July 1899 and was to become the longest-running
newspaper in the region apart from the Kalgoorlie Miner.
Leonora was surprisingly well catered for as there was also a cordial factory, mechanics' institute, a race course and a State
battery to crush the mined ore.
When the population reached about 1,000 people, Leonora was proclaimed a municipality in 1900.
By 1901 Leonora was connected by a steam tram to Gwalia. The service was converted to electric in November 1908 and was the
first electric tram service in the state.
When the power station burned down the tram service was converted to petrol in 1915 and continued to operate until 1921.
In 1902 the town was linked to Perth by rail via Menzies.
In the book Twentieth Century Impressions of W.A. written in 1901 it states:
"...hotels and different large business establishments have a most imposing appearance, being constructed mostly of brick.
Other buildings are composed of adobe, and although somewhat sombre in their colour, have the merit of being substantial."
In 1908 The Bulletin described Leonora as the nation's most progressive town.
Many early buildings still stand today, including the Grand Hotel in Tower Street with its magnificent façade. The hotel was
constructed in 1900 and featured two kitchens and a large stone-lined cellar. Another impressive Tower Street building, The
Barnes Federal Theatre, opened in 1901 with capacity for 1,000 people and was known as the best hall of its size outside Perth.
The first Mayor of Leonora (William Albert Snell) rode a bicycle across the Nullarbor to Melbourne in 1897. He accomplished
this feat in just 26 days and was only the second person to cross this way. One source says that he had gone east to meet
his bride to be and after arranging her passage by sea he seems to have hopped back on his bike and rode all the way across
again meeting his bride in Fremantle. Sadly William's death was a lonely one in the outback north of Wiluna in 1942.
In 1996 a project was started to restore some of the old miner's cottages at Gwalia. The buildings are available now for
tourists to wander through and see what living conditions were like for miners in the early days.
Drinking water in the area has traditionally been high in salt and nitrate. In 2005 a reverse osmosis treatment plant was
opened in order to improve water quality. The treatment plant has the capacity to supply 2.5 million litres a day.
In 2010 a mining workers hostel was converted into an immigration detention centre. This was not long lived and closed in 2014.
TALL TALES AND TRUE
Nuclear explosion, earthquake or meteor?
180km north east of Leonora is Banjawarn Station, a 1 million acre property on the edge of the desert.
On May 28th 1993 a seismic event was recorded in this area that coincided with reports of a fireball in the sky. The disturbance was 170 times larger than any man made explosion recorded in Australia.
It transpired that the station had been purchased in 1993 by the doomsday cult, Aum Shinrikyo; infamous for the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995. Later investigation found that sheep on the property had been exposed to sarin gas and that traces still remained in the soil. There seems little doubt that the station had been used to experiment and prepare for the attack on Tokyo.
There was speculation that the fireball and seismic disturbance may have been the first atomic explosion carried out by non-government forces, in this case by an extreme terrorist group. Aum Shinrikyo were known to have recruited two Russian nuclear scientists and had been involved with mining uranium (there is a deposit on the station) so it is not too far a stretch to imagine that they may have attempted to set off a nuclear explosion.
Other explanations for this event have included a meteor bursting apart in the atmosphere (as there is no evidence of a ground strike) or an earthquake of around 3.6 magnitude.
Any investigation into the event was not carried out until years after it had happened so no definitive answer has ever been found.
Read more about the Aum presence in W.A. at A Case Study on the Aum Shinrikyo
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Mt Leonora, Tower Street, Malcolm Dam, Smoodgers Hill, Gwalia historical museum.
BUILDINGS OF NOTE
Former Grand Hotel 1900, White House hotel 1900, Post office 1900, State hotel 1903, Former mines office 1898, Mine superintendent's house 1898, Winder and head frame 1898-1912,
The old police station 1903, Courthouse 1903, Masonic Lodge, Old fire station 1903, National and WA Bank, Anzac War memorial.
State : Kalgoorlie
Federal : O'Connor
Postcode : 6438
Local Government : Shire of Leonora
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