Leonora
Collage of Leonora.

In the early years a robust rivalry existed between the twin towns of Leonora and Gwalia, only two miles apart.

Leonora was officially gazetted in 1897 and within a short period of time two banks, three hotels, a telegraph office and an avenue of shops had lined the main street. The state refused to sanctify Gwalia and replicate services that already existed at Leonora even though the population at Gwalia was larger than Leonora's until 1911. The Sons of Gwalia mine was the second largest in the state, only bested by Kalgoorlie's 'Golden Mile" and operated for 104 years.

The superior civil status of Leonora is evident in the architecture of both towns. Leonora boasts the classic goldfields architecture of Western Australia - big overhung verandahs that shade the footpaths while the sturdier brick and adobe construction of a town once brimming with confidence has stood the test of time. While the State Hotel at Gwalia is a magnificent example of a double story hotel of the era many of the dwellings were ramshackle affairs, hastily thrown together from pieces of corrugated iron and canvas.

A steam tramway was constructed in 1900 to link the two towns. This was later powered by a petrol tram that hooked into the Menzies line and consequently Kalgoorlie and the rest of the world.

Gwalia was actually the original townsite, gold having been discovered here in 1894, but flooding caused the relocation and renaming to Leonora. The original town site was sentimentally named for the ancient poetic word for Wales - 'Gwalia' while the new town of Leonora honoured the niece of explorer John Forrest - Miss Phylis Leonora Hardy. Gwalia however can claim historical ties of much greater distinction. Mr Herbert Hoover, a young engineer, was the first mine manager at Sons of Gwalia. He later went on to become the 31st President of the United States. In the Palace Hotel at Kalgoorlie stands a huge and intricately carved wood framed mirror, a parting gift to the hotel but in reality a moment of his affection for a Palace Hotel barmaid he had developed an infatuation for.

The famous 'Sons of Gwalia' mine announced it would finally close in 1963. Extra trains were sent from Kalgoorlie and in three short weeks the population at Gwalia went from 1200 to just 40. Both Leonora and Gwalia had boomed and waned with fluctuating gold prices and the World Wars. Leonora made it because of the civic infrastructure which services the pastoral industry although mining continues to be an important factor in the regions economy.

It is difficult to view Leonora in isolation from Gwalia. The towns have much shared history and remain separated by mere minutes. The Leonora Shire has undertaken a restoration program at Gwalia and many of the old miners cottages have been restored while a Museum and Bed and Breakfast operate within the old town. Gwalia has a unique appeal while Leonora has the facilities and amenities even though the main street is little changed since it's heyday.


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