History of Laura

Includes the towns of Laura and Stone Hut

The Laura District extends over land presumed to have been occupied at different stages by the Ngadjuri and Nukunu tribes. It was first settled by the Europeans in the early 1840s: by 1843 Bristow Herbert Hughes and Herbert Bristow Hughes, brothers of John Hughes of Bundaleer, had opened up the country along the Rocky River. In 1846 HB and BH Hughes founded Booyoolee Station, which was first established at Coocerpoo between present-day Gladstone and Georgetown, later moving to Gnangwea near Laura, and later still to the present site at Gladstone. Pastoralists Point at Port Pirie was the site of the wool storage shed shared by Booyoolee, Beetaloo and Crystal Brook runs: the caretaker was Port Pirie's first inhabitant. In 1851 properties held under occupation licenses were, by law, transferred to pastoral leases, and in order to protect their capital investments, the Hughes brothers freeholded 2428 hectares along Rocky River flats, including the site of Laura.

The Honourable HBT Strangways was responsible for the introduction of the Wastelands Amendment Act of 1869 which ushered in a new era of purchase on credit of maximum allotments of one square mile (258 hectares) per settler, thus promoting the expansion of agriculture in the State. In November 1871 the land of the Booyoolie Agricultural Area was opened for selection. All land adjacent to the surveyed township of Laura was selected by March 1872.

Sections of the District were surveyed in 1851, 1855, 1857, and 1868, and James Elder, WC Goose and CH Harris completed the task in 1871. On 6 June of that year the area was officially proclaimed the Hundred of Booyoolie. Although the name of the Hundred was taken from the station property, it was incorrectly recorded as "Booyoolie" instead of "Booyoolee". The variation in spelling still exists.

The township of Laura, comprising 258 hectares, was also surveyed by CH Harris in 1871, and blocks were offered for auction on 2 August 1872. Laura street names perpetuate the Hughes family connections. In 1854 Herbert Bristow Hughes of Booyoolee had returned to England where he married Laura White, a sister of the Whites of Wirrabara. In 1871 the Governor, Sir James Fergusson, named the proposed town 'Laura' after Mrs HB Hughes. Mr HWA Walter, the first purchaser of land in the District after closer settlement, bought the land immediately north of the surveyed township and had it surveyed as a private township, North Laura. The continuation of Herbert Street was named Mill Street, obviously because of the location of the flour mill built in 1874 by the Walter family. Other streets bear the names of Henry, William, Alexander and Walter.

In 1893, the Council made representations to the Government for the purchase of land for Working Men's Blocks and, following the Government Assessors' recommendations, Section 456 was bought from Mr J Slattery for £5 10s per acre (0.4 hectare). The land was subdivided into blocks ranging in size from 4 to 4.8 hectares, and is known today as the Laura Blocks.

When the Hundred of Booyoolie was first opened up for settlement, its roads were under the control of a District Road Board; but as agriculture and second industry developed, the need for local self government became evident. The Government Gazette of 2 March 1876 proclaimed the whole of the Hundred of Booyoolie a District Council area, and, as was the custom, Executive Council appointed the members of the new Council. At the first meeting held at the Laura Hotel on 13 March, John Cook was appointed Chairman. Included in the area of this Council were the townships of Stone Hut, Laura, North Gladstone and Booyoolie. In 1879 a portion was severed to the District Council of Yangya, and in 1880 another portion was severed to the same Council, which by then was known as the District Council of Gladstone.

In February 1882 the Gladstone Areas Express reported that at a public meeting held at Laura to consider the incorporation of the town, it was resolved that Laura be formed into a Corporation. The Government Gazette of 22 June 1882 issued the proclamation, and two days later the first meeting was held at the Laura Hotel. A town planning committee was formed, comprising the Mayor, SN Walter, and Councillors Adamson and Gliddon, and an order was immediately placed by this committee for 250 sugar gums and 250 pepper trees. In subsequent years tree planting was actively pursued, and a special rate, varying from 1d to 3d in the £, was struck for the purpose. Because of the extent of the tree planting, a system of trenching the ground was used, instead of digging individual holes for trees. Twelve horses driven by R Cleggett were used to pull a single furrow plough specially made for this task by James Stevens. William Wild, the Corporation's first road employee, also assisted with the tree planting. In 1976, a hundred trees were planted to mark the centenary of Local Government in the area.

In 1926 the Northern District Councils and Corporations Association recommended to the Government '…that a Commission be appointed to report on the amalgamation of small councils and re-arrangement of council boundaries'. Subsequently the Local Government Boundaries Commission took evidence throughout the State. In October 1931 it proposed that the Gladstone District Council, the Gladstone Corporation, the Booyoolie District Council, the Laura Corporation, and portion of the Caltowie District Council should merge to form a new District Council of Booyoolie. At a public meeting in Laura it was resolved that if any amalgamation were to take place, it should be between the Booyoolie District Council and the Laura Corporation. It was reported that the ratepayers of Gladstone also assembled in 'fairly strong force' to oppose the recommendations of the Commission. The Government Gazette of 28 April 1932 proclaimed that as from midnight on 30 April the functions of the Booyoolie District Council and the Laura Corporation were to be suspended and a new Council was to be formed, to be known as the District Council of Laura.

The first members of the Council, consisting of the Booyoolie District Council and the Laura Corporations were 'appointed' to hold office until elections were held in July. JL Kennedy was elected as Chairman of this combined Council. The first elected members of the District Council of Laura were JH Acott (Chairman), R Rohrlach, CD Lehmann, C Amey, WE Cowin and GE Cleggett.

The Laura Institute, built in 1875, was the first in the Northern Area. During the 1950s the Laura Town Hall Improvement Committee (now the Laura Memorial Civic Centre Committee) was formed to raise funds for the renovation or replacement of the Town Hall. The new Civic Centre was opened on 6 December 1968. The Committee, which had been under the energetic chairmanship of COJ Tozer for fifteen years, provided $20,000 for the project, and loan repayments have been met by the Committee annually. New Honour Rolls were donated by Mr J Bowker. Through the efforts of the Old Style Dance Committee in 1979, the Civic Centre was air-conditioned, and in 1981 the amenities room was added.

The Institute Library was replaced in 1982 by the Flinders Mobile Library Service, which was a combined project of six District Councils on the eastern side of the Flinders Ranges.

In 1937 the District Council requested the Director of Highways to seal Herbert Street. Alternative plans for a two-way road were implemented, and by June 1938 the road program had been completed. Residents donated money and shrubs for the beautification of the median strip which today forms a lasting impression on the minds of visitors to the town.

In the mid 1960s Herbert Street was reconstructed and the stormwater drainage system through the southern portion of the town was redesigned. Following this project most of the streets in the town have been sealed. In 1938 Laura became one of the first areas in the State to have fire fighting equipment, consisting of old oil drums, knapsacks, beaters, and shovels. A steel tank donated by Commonwealth Oil Refineries was mounted on a trailer and also used to water the newly developed main street plantation. In 1948 the Laura Fire Brigade was formed, taking delivery of a trailer unit which was housed at the Laura Milling Company until the new Fire Station was opened in 1951. A Maple Leaf truck was converted as a fire unit, and this served the District until 1979, when a new International unit was purchased and the new CFS/SES building was opened. The community raised over $30,000 for this project, and this, together with subsidies and an REDS Grant, meant that the facilities were debt free - an outstanding community effort considering that the amount raised was half the rate revenue.

Laura owes its prominence in the field of fire protection to Mr RJ Rose, editor and proprietor of the Laura Standard, who was responsible for the formation of the Northern Fire Fighting Association in 1926. Until his death in 1942, he had been a staunch advocate of fire prevention and safety, devoting much space in the Laura Standard to this cause. The Northern Fire Fighting Association erected a memorial headstone on the grave of its past Secretary.

Through its Community Development Board, the Council was responsible for the erection in 1984 of six pensioner cottages in a joint project with the South Australian Housing Trust. A portion of land in the northern parklands was re-dedicated for this purpose. A further six cottages (Laura Homes) were completed in 1985. Laura has successfully participated in the Tidy Towns competitions and the District Council of Laura was involved in the Greening of Australia through an ongoing program of tree planting.

Laura has been fortunate to have had the benefits of a woman's point of view on many aspects of Local Government. Barbara June Kleinig, the first woman to serve on the Council, represented the North Laura Ward from October 1979 to July 1980, and Kaye Aleece Matthews served as the West Laura representative from the elections of 1983. Helen Jayne Karger joined the Council as clerical assistant in 1979, and at the time of her resignation in 1984 was holding the position of District Clerk. It is to be hoped that this aspect of Local Government will continue in the Laura area.

The District Council of Laura was divided into six Wards; East Laura, North Laura, Pine Creek, Stone Hut, West Laura and Whyte Cliff. Assessment value for the year 1983/83 was $5,569,500, netting $87,026 in rate revenue.

(Source: "South Australia, the civic record 1836 to 1986")

During 1988 discussions were held with the neighbouring Councils of Georgetown and Gladstone regarding amalgamation and agreement for amalgamation was reached on 4th May 1988 resulting in the formation of the District Council of Rocky River. Further local government consolidation during 1996/7 saw the Rocky River Council amalgamate with the District Councils of Spalding and Jamestown to form the Northern Areas Council which was effected on 3rd May 1997.

Link to Laura Website: http:/www.laurasa.com.au