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Waitara is in the parish of South Colah and the shire of Hornsby.
The name was suggested by Miles McRae, Commissioner for Railways, who owned land called Waitara near Hurstville.  The name comes from the Māori word meaning 'pure water'. Australian volunteers fought as Imperial troops at the Waitara River in New Zealand during the Māori wars of the 1860s, and this is probably why Waitara is used as a place name in Australia. Waitara was the last station to open on the North Shore line, in March 1895.
Barker College, a boarding school, was opened in 1895, and in 1897 the Sisters of Mercy started a foundling home on the orchard property of Charles Leek, now known as Mercy Family Centre. These two institutions have grown to encompass several hectares of land.
In 1927 a public school was opened.
Land divisions of one-acre (0.4-hectare) blocks took place in 1902 from Myra to Romsey streets and from Junction Road (now Edgeworth David Avenue) to Peats Ferry Road (now the Pacific Highway).
In 1915, the value of homes in Waitara ranged from £160 to £984. After World War I, houses were built in Wentworth Avenue and in 1925 more blocks were divided and sold around Waitara Park.  Also after World War I, war service homes were built in Waitara.
Waitara, which was known in its early days for the beauty of its orchards, now has a long business strip along the Pacific Highway to Pearces Corner. This includes car sale yards, light industry, motels and nursing homes. Pearces Corner – where Waitara, Wahroonga and Normanhurst meet – was named after Aaron Pierce, one of the first settlers in Waitara. The change in spelling appears to have occurred in the mid-1900s.