The former home town of legendary poet C.J. Dennis is a zesty place with a knack for making the past come alive.

Story By Quentin Chester

Whatever you do, don’t say, ‘Laura is a sleepy little town’. It would drive my husband Robert spare.” Spend a couple of hours with Rhonda Pech – the bearer of this advice – and you’ll soon see what she means. One minute she’s cleaning the town’s historic Courthouse Gallery or sorting records in the imposing archives building next door; the next she’s lending a hand at the Information Centre or any number of volunteer groups. With a fondness for Laura’s past and the spark to make things happen, Rhonda sums up the drive that makes this welcoming town anything but drowsy.
Named after the wife of pioneer pastoralist Herbert Hughes, Laura was founded as a district centre in 1871 after his vast “Booyoolee Run” was carved up into settler farms. And it’s true, at first glance, the old shopfronts and leafy parks do make this look like just another established rural town, one in a string that dot the historic Main North Road along the eastern flanks of the Flinders Ranges.
Yet up close it’s a different story. As well as the butcher, supermarket and hardware shops, a stroll along the tree-lined main street turns up a jeweller and silversmith, two antique shops, a bookstore, art galleries, shoemaker and soap store. Cast the net a bit wider and you find everything from Golden North’s famed ice-cream factory and the North Laura Hotel, to four substantial stone churches, a 17-bed hospital and statues honouring one of Australia’s most beloved poets. Not bad for a modest 800-person town.
According to Rhonda the essence of Laura goes back to its origins as a hub for farming families. Unlike towns that relied on railways or government projects, the push here came from the surrounding community. “Basically, if they wanted something, they got off their backsides and did the work,” she says. “Back in the 1930s when they needed a hospital, people got together and raised the funds themselves.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #75

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2011