Historic cottage

In 1869 explorer John Forrest and party, in search of the lost Leichardt Expedition, made camp near a hill and named it Mount Leonora. Twenty five years on, prospectors moved through the area and by 1896 mining claims were pegged and gold discovered, leading to the establishment of the twin towns of Leonora and Gwalia, along with the smaller town of Malcolm. A railway link from Kalgoorlie opened in June 1902 and still operates today.

Leonora became the largest centre on the North Eastern Goldfields and by 1908 boasted 7 hotels, general stores, chemists, tailors and bakeries. Mining has continued uptil the present day with gold, and now nickel, being produced in large quantities.

1829 - 1896

This period begins with the settlement of the Swan River Colony and ends with the settlement of Leonora. It covers the period of early exploration and identifies those people who contributed to the early establishment of Leonora.

Demographic Settlement & Mobility

Exploration & Discovery

An expedition led by John Forrest was undertaken in April 1869, to ascertain the fate of lost explorer Leichardt, twenty years earlier. The journey commenced on 15 April 1869 and they set off in a north-easterly direction reaching and naming Lake Barlee on 25 May. "Sunday, 20th June, 1869. Saw a hill bearing N.81 30'E. mag, about twenty five miles distant, which I named Mt Leonora; and another bearing N.6T'E mag, about twenty five miles distant, which I named Mt George. Intend to proceeding to Mt Leonora tomorrow." The first geological survey of the area was undertaken by Mr C.F.V. Jackson, Assistant Government Geologist, in 1904. Carnegie, who travelled through the Leonora District just prior to the gold rushes in the area. Activity had been established to the north at Lake Darlot and to the east at Mt Margaret. To add to the significance of the proximity of these areas, is the fact that prospectors were travelling from two main centres - the Murchison to the west and Coolgardie to the south, thereby passing over or very near the Mt Leonora area.

Early in 1895, a prospector named Booden who had come over from the Murchison found alluvial gold in a gully below what was later known as the Little Wonder Mine at Diorite King, about 23 miles north-west of Leonora. Having had his camp burned and his provisions stolen, he set off for Cue. Once there, he struck up a partnership with Edward 'Doodah' Sullivan. It was Sullivan who is claimed to have been the first prospector to have found gold near Leonora. After leaving the Little Wonder late in 1895, he found gold about 4 miles north of Leonora and in March 1896 he pegged the Johannesburg Lease. He died later that year, and his grave is marked on the site of his lease near Mt. George.

Sons Of Gwalia

The Sons of Gwalia reef was discovered in April or May 1896 by prospectors Carlson, White and Glendinning, who were backed by the Tobias Brothers, merchants of Coolgardie. The new find was only one of a number of reefs opened up in the Mount Leonora district in that year, but was to prove the most significant. It was a good time to find a major gold deposit. The success of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie had established Western Australia's credentials on international stockmarkets at the very time when economic depression was making gold one of the more attractive avenues for investment, and promoters were scouring the goldfields in search of prospects. Normally, the vendors of mineral deposits face a long struggle to secure capital backing, but Western Australia, in 1896; was seething with capitalists awaiting opportunities.

Another mine which raised great hopes was the Great Tower Hill found by Jim Breen in July 1896. However, results were not up to expectations and after producing nearly 18,000 oz’s in 1906 it rapidly declined, no further mining being done after 1908.

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.

1930 - 1963

The end of this period is marked by the closure of the Sons of Gwalia mine, an event that was to have a significant effect on both Gwalia and Leonora.


Mining Operations - Closure Of Sons Of Gwalia Mine

World War II bought labour shortages, exacerbated by the internment in 1940 of the Italian nationals amongst the workforce. Production fell sharply. The internal shaft at Sons of Gwalia was fitted with its own electric winder, and eventually reached 527ft in depth in 1948, making the mine's total vertical distance 3,778 feet.

The end of the war had not eased labour shortage. In an attempt to replace the Italians, few of whom had returned to Gwalia from the internment camps, the company shipped 67 miners directly from Italy in 1949, but only 31 of them were still at the mine a year later and recruitment of labour became a standing concern. By the 1950s, Sons of Gwalia was in its final- decline, battling hard to remain efficient: Mechanical scrapers and loader appeared in the stopes, replacing men wielding shovels. In 1955, underground horses were retired, and replaced by electric locomotives.

By 1963, in a bid to stay afloat, the company owed the State £366,000 and was running at a loss every year. On 6 December 1963, the directors met to consider the latest geological reports and learned that the ore in sight was of pore quality. There was no option but to close the mine.

On 13 December 1963, the announcement was made that the mine would close on New Year's Eve. An accident intervened on 27 December when an orecart was '" overwound, damaging the headframe, and putting the southern shaft out of action. Ore haulage ceased immediately, and the mine was finished.

The population of Leonora and Gwalia was about 1,700, of whom at least two­tbirds were financially dependent on the mine. The closure caused dislocation, but little distress, for the workforce of 250 were rapidly absorbed by the mines of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. The exodus began immediately, encouraged by concession railway fares and housing subsidies. When it closed at the end of 1963, the Sons of Gwalia mine was probably the sixth-largest gold producing mine in Australia's history, and one of the only two mines outside the 'Golden Mile' of Kalgoorlie-Boulder which could measure its gold output at over two million ounces.

Social & Civic Activities

In 1957, the Co-op closed in Gwalia, leaving Mazza's Store as the town's, one shop. The Pictures closed the following year, and the State Hotel was sold to a syndicate of local residents in 1960.

Outside Influences

State And Federal Government

The influence of State and Federal Government has pervaded almost every aspect of community life, including employment, education, welfare, health and transportation.

World Wars And Depression

Although there have been a number of external events and influences which have shaped the development of Leonora, the two World Wars have been particularly significant, impacting as they did on the district's social fabric and economy. The onset of both wars resulted in many people leaving the district either to join up or to seek employment elsewhere. The wars also effected the price of gold and consequently, during both wars, a number of mines in district ceased operations.

The economic depression of the 1930s resulted in a substantial curtailment of the activities of government authorities.

Leonora Electoral Roll for 1958

1964 – 1997

This period is characterised by the effects of the closure of the Sons of Gwalia mine on both Gwalia and Leonora. After a period of stagnation there was a mining resurgence in the area in the 1980s leading to a renewed interest in the district.

Demographic Settlement & Mobility

Closure Of Sons Of Gwalia Mine

Closure of the Sons of Gwalia mine in 1963, substantially modified the pattern of population change. The total population of the two towns declined markedly, the 1966 population (338 persons) being only one-third of that in 1961 (970 persons). Gwalia's population fell to only 47 persons in 1966. Cessation of the mine caused the departure of the mining population which in turn removed the need for commercial and business enterprises in Gwalia. Leonora remained much less affected by the closure of the mine. Leonora's population continued to decline at a similar rate as previously and in 1966 stood at 291.

Since 1966, population statistics for Leonora and Gwalia have not been recorded separately due to the almost negligible population that has remained in Gwalia. Leonora and Gwalia are, today, only a fraction of their size at the turn-of-the­century. Although mining operations continued at Gwalia for much longer than in most mining centres established at the same time by gold mining, available exploration and extractive techniques of the time brought Gwalia to the same inevitable level of most other gold mining towns. Leonora has survived as a result of the alternative economic based district administration, rail head, and supply centre.

Over 90% of the Leonora-Gwalia population is Australian born. The influence of the relatively large number of Italians and Slavs who worked as wood-cutters and miners during the early mining days and the Afghans who were an important part of the pre-railway transport scene, is no longer readily apparent.


Mining Operations

The increasing prices for gold in 1980 saw a resurgence of interest in gold mining in the Leonora area. In particular, re-assessments of gold bearing occurrences associated with the old Harbour Lights mine to the north of the town, the re­opening of the Sons of Gwalia mine and re-development of the Tower Hill mine to the west of the town.

The main nickel deposit in the vicinity of Leonora is 133km north-west at Agnew. Commercial production began in July 1979. The ore is processed on site into nickel concentrate. Mine and milling operations employ a workforce who are housed in the new town of Leinster. Leinster is located 13kms from the mine.

Leonora benefits from its function as a transport node but has no significant service function for this mining operation.

Another major mineral discovery in the Leonora area is at Teutonic Bore. This lead, silver and zinc deposit is located 6Okms north-west of Leonora. A concentrator plant was completed in June 1981 and commercial production commenced later that year.

Social & Civic Activities

Sons Of Gwalia Mine

On 17 January 1964, the State Hotel in Gwalia closed its doors on a town that was nearly deserted. Sons of Gwalia mine went into receivership within days of the closure. The major plant items on the mine site were bought by the State, and smaller plant and stores were sold at auction in October 1965. The site was progressively stripped of useful machinery and the remaining buildings fell into disrepair. There has since been a renewal of this mine utilising open-cut mining methods.

Outside Influences

World Mineral Market

Leonora has been subject to the fortunes and misfortunes of the gold mining industry which" is influenced by dramatic fluctuations in the World Mineral Market. The rise and fall of world mineral prices was reflected in the local population and economy. The tremendous rise in gold prices in 1980 led, in the eastern goldfields to a resurgence in gold exploration, expansion of operating mines and the re-opening of mines that had been closed. Although gold prices have fallen dramatically since their record high of January 1980, the boom did provide new impetus to settlements associated with the gold mining industry.


In recent years the number of visitors to the Goldfields Region has increased. Leonora's history as a gold mining town is well presented in its main tourist attraction - Gwalia Ghost Town. A large amount of restoration has already' been carried out on buildings in order to retain the character of the mining town.



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