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Leura is 108 kilometres west of Sydney and 985 metres above sea level in the upper Blue Mountains of New South Wales. It is within the area administered by the Blue Mountains City Council.
The original inhabitants of the area were the Dharug people. Archaeological evidence at Lyrebird Dell in South Leura suggests that Aboriginal occupation of the region may date back more than 12,000 years, to a time when the climate was far more arid than it is now.
The first Europeans to enter the area, in 1813, were the explorers Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth, their assistant James Burns (or Byrnes), a free man, and three unnamed convict servants who passed by sometime in late May 1813. They were followed by the expedition of George Evans in November 1813, the road-building party of William Cox the following year and then the thousands of travellers who passed to and from the west over the next 50 years.
When the western railway line was constructed across the Blue Mountains in 1867–68, a gatehouse (No 9) was erected where the line crossed the Western Road near the present Sorensen Bridge. The gatekeepers, chatting to the travellers waiting for the gates to open, were the first permanent European residents of the area now known as Leura. Another early presence occurred following the discovery of coal in the Jamison Valley below the present Leura golf course in the early 1880s. With the establishment of the Gladstone colliery, a siding was erected on the railway line in 1885 to service the mine. The colliery closed in 1887 and the gatehouse was eventually demolished during work to duplicate the railway line in 1901.
The appearance of Leura
The earliest appearance of the name Leura was on a plan of subdivision, dated January–March 1881, for land south of the railway line belonging to Frederick Clissold. On his plan Clissold named a distinctive waterfall Leura Falls. Many theories have been advanced as to the origins of the name, including its derivation from an Aboriginal word, from the name of the daughter of an early landholder, and from the possible business connection of Clissold to a Queensland pastoral property of that name. Though recent research suggests this last to be a strong possibility, the debate has by no means been settled. When the land was offered for sale later in 1881 as the Leura Estate, however, the name was well on its way to general acceptance.
Perhaps the first large home erected at Leura was Leura House, high on the northern side of the Western Road, in the late 1880s, with views extending over the Jamison Valley. A railway platform was erected in 1891, followed on Christmas Eve 1892 by the opening of the Leura Coffee Palace, renamed The Ritz in 1914. Postal facilities were established in 1893 and during the next 20 years land on both sides of the railway line was subdivided and offered for sale. A new railway station was built in 1902.
While the early focus of activity had been along the Western Road, with the construction of the Coffee Palace and the railway station, Leura Mall began to dominate. Most of its commercial buildings date from 1900 to the 1920s and today the Mall is the focus of Laura's daily business activity.
In 1905 a Katoomba and Leura Tourist Association was formed to promote both towns to the burgeoning tourism market. As in Katoomba, the number of small to medium guesthouses and holiday rentals increased along with an influx of more permanent residents. Lookouts and walking tracks around the town were promoted from the late 19th century and the Gordon Falls Reserve in particular became a popular picnic destination for visitors. After World War I a section of this reserve was set aside for a war memorial.
Building a community
The Presbyterians built a church in 1901 and were followed eight years later by the Methodists and Anglicans. There is a memorial obelisk in the Mall dedicated to the respected Presbyterian minister, Reverend Robert Alexander Redmond, who died in 1911. In 1905 the Alexandra Hotel was opened between the railway station and the highway and in 1914 the Chateau Napier guesthouse was erected on the corner of the North Mall and the highway. Devastating bushfires in 1957 destroyed this guesthouse and many residential and commercial properties in the town. It took years for the area to recover from the resulting economic depression.
Leura's reputation as a 'garden village' was encouraged by the 1965 decision of the owners of a number of landscaped gardens on large landholdings to open their gardens once a year to raise funds for the Blue Mountains District Hospital. The Leura Gardens Festival has now joined the Village Fair to become an annual springtime event drawing thousands of visitors and which has raised more than $1 million for charity. One of the main attractions is the famous 1930s Everglades garden created by the Sydney businessman Henri Van de Velde and his gardener Paul Sorenson.
Over the years many influential people have been attracted to this part of the upper mountains. Among its more famous residents have been the Labor politician and author Dr Herbert Vere ('Doc') Evatt, who had a cottage in Leura and whose memorial museum is housed in Leuralla in Olympian Parade. The writers Ethel Turner and, more recently, Kate Llewellyn also lived here.
Leura, with its quiet, tree-lined streets, exotic tree and garden plantings, expansive views, picturesque golf course, exclusive bed and breakfasts and grand homes, now sits at the apex of the Blue Mountains property market. Its largely intact early twentieth century shopping centre, which is now the home of boutiques, galleries and coffee shops, has become a premier shopping and tourist destination.
Audrey M Armitage, The Katoomba-Leura Story, Rotary Club of Katoomba, Katoomba NSW, 1998
Brian Fox, The Origin of Leura, Blue Mountains, the author, Bathurst NSW, 2001
John Low, Wild Ephemera website, http://wildephemera.mountaintracks.com.au/wild/, viewed 19 January 2009
PB Salgardo, Leura Blue Mountains Walking Tour & Guidebook, the author, Glenbrook NSW, 2005