1896 - 1929

This period marks the settlement and development of Leonora and Gwalia up until the beginning of the Depression.

Demographic Settlement & Mobility

Sons of Gwalia

By September 1896 the syndicate had commenced small-scale extraction from a vertical shaft. Following further exploration and having proved the mine's potential, Hall sought further capital to back its large-scale development. He attracted the attention of Bewick, Moreing & Coy, a London based firm who were expanding throughout the Western Australian goldfields. In January 1898, the new company Sons of Gwalia Ltd., was launched in London. Most of its capital of £300 000 was issued to the London and Western Australian Exploration Company to acquire the property, with smaller parcels going to a consortium of associated companies: the London and Westralian Mines and Finance Agency, the British Westralian Mines and Share Corporation, and the Union Financial Syndicate. Besides holding the controlling financial interest, Bewick, Moreing were engaged as managing consultants at the mine, and Hoover was appointed General Manager there from 1 May 1898.


Leonora is a township in the Malcolm district of the Mount Margaret goldfield. The place was declared on townsite on 15 April 1898 , the site having been selected because of its central position between the Gwalia Mines and the four mile leases. The name Leonora was taken from Mt. Leonora. This location was named by John Forrest, 1896, after Lady Eleonora, wife of the Governor of Western Australia. Soon after settlement commenced at Leonora a progress committee was elected, and it controlled the direction of public matters. The increase of population, however, necessitated the constitution of a body endowed with wider powers, and after some delay and a considerable amount of agitation the town was gazetted a municipality on 21 August 1900.

Thiel, writing in 1901, described the newly settled Leonora township:

Tower-street, the main thoroughfare, is well laid out and in every respect a credit to the municipality. Temporary premises have been obtained for Council offices, pending the erection of municipal chambers, preparations for which are in progress. The town is lighted by kerosene lamps and footpaths have been formed, gravelled and kerbed. The first view of the locality impresses the beholder with an idea of solidity and prosperity; for, although there are the customary iron and wooden structures which are to be found in all goldfields settlements, the hotels and different large business establishments have a most imposing appearance, being constructed mostly of brick. The business establishments, which must be regarded as the barometer of the commercial element, undeniably indicate that Leonora is advancing by rapid strides.

Transport & Communications


Large quantities of timber are required for the development and running of the gold mines. This timber was not available locally and so a transport problem arose. The material required had to be shipped from its source to the lease and the best way considered to do this was by a small railway. An application was made for the constructing of the tramway and this was later granted to the Company.

The total area covered by the woodline was approximately 800 square miles. 4000 miles of 20" gauge track. Only sufficient track was maintained to operate a few spur lines at one time. As an area became exhausted, the track was lifted (in sections complete with mulga log sleepers) and relaid in another area. The spur lines were laid 2 miles apart so that woodcutters were always within 1 mile of the track. The mulga cut was the fuel source for Sons of Gwalia Mine. About 30,000 tons of mulga of wood per year. The wood was used as fuel for boilers producing steam for the winder and to make producer gas for the engines in the power house. These engines drove the alternators generating the mines electricity and compressors producing the compressed air required. Woodline camps were very spartan. Each woodcutter had a small canvas hut with iron roof, which could be lifted onto a railway timber wagon and moved to the next campsite. Bough sheds were erected around the huts for additional shade and pens for chickens and goats were re-erected at each new campsite. Now, remains of bough sheds indicate the location of a campsite. Although a predominantly male occupation, some woodcutters had their families with them.

Coaches, Cars, Trams

Passenger traffic was looked after by Cobb & Co's coaches. The first of these ran from Coolgardie to Leonora and to Wiluna in 1898, gradually shortening their run as the railway was pushed on. By 1902, the first train had reached Leonora. In 1901, came the first motor transport operator in the person of Bob Field with a single cylinder De Dion from the Murchison. He made such god fast times that Cobb & Co bought him out and put two Talbot cars on the run. These cars cut six hours off the old coach times. Cobb & Co finally gave up the run in 1916. A Steam Tram Service linking Leonora and Gwalia was established in 1903. With the opening of the electric power house in 1907, an electric tram replaced the steam. This continued in use until a fire wrecked the power house in 1915 and effectively cut off the supply. Not to be beaten the resourceful town council converted an Overland 30cwt truck to run on rails. However the motor age won at last and in 1921 taxis took over the transport between the towns and later a motor bus was put on the run.


Gold Mining

As a result of Booden and Doodah Sullivan's efforts the North Leonora Area was soon showing signs of active prospecting about 6km north of Mt. Leonora. The Gold Blocks Leases were applied for by A. McPhee in June 1896 and in July the Trump Leases were registered by Armstrong, Roach and Collins. The first ore from this mine was so rich it had to be taken by camels to Menzies for treament. Ore from the Little Wonder was taken by pack-horse to Southern Cross for treatment, but in 1898 a 10 head battery was erected near Mt George to provide urgently required facilities for the Four Mile Area. In 1899 other mines such as the Main Reefs and the Ping Pong were also producing 3,000 ounces of gold.

Pastoral Industry

The pastoral industry was pioneered by James Willis. Willis drove the first consignment of cattle to the district in 1896. He did this in association with a man named Tulloch. The sheep were sold to the prospectors but later to the butcher shops. Stations in the early days were established for this purpose and not for wool production. The first pastoral lease was taken up by a Mr Boyes who selected what is known as the Ten Mile on Clover Downs Station. It was not until 1925 that there came an influx of woolgrowers from the Eastern States, who purchased quite a number of properties for the purpose of raising sheep.

Social & Civic Activities


In January 1898, the Mount Leonora Board of Health was formed. One of their first tasks was to improve the sanitation of the new town. A private hospital had existed in Leonora from October 189. Early in 1899, the first public hospital. was erected. It was of timber and hessian construction and there was one sister on duty. In December 1899, Dr Healy was appointed as the first Medical Officer. In February 1907, a new brick operating theatre was opened by Mayor Snell. In 1914, a major addition was opened being a maternity ward. In 1918, Malcolm hospital buildings were transported by jinker into Leonora and re-erected.


The first water scheme was completed in 1902. This consisted of pumping water by a large windmill to a reservoir on top of Tank ('Smoodgers') Hill, and thence reticulated around the town. The first Mayor, Mr Snell, then initiated the Station Creek Water Scheme. Snell also got the Steam Tram Service running in 1903 between Leonora and Gwalia. The electric lighting system was put in by Noyes Bros in 1907, the constructing engineer being Mr W. Johns.

Outside Influences

On 19 January 1921, producer gas leaking from one of the Sons of Gwalia powerhouse engines exploded. The powerhouse and mill buildings were ablaze. Effort was concentrated on saving the winder and external machinery. Insurance covered the loss and a new plant was built. A lot of men were put off, however, by the time full production was resumed in mid 1922, nearly everyone had jobs again.