A tiny settlement on the main road to Cape York, Laura is the centre for the largest collection of prehistoric rock art in the world. It also forms the northern apex of the "Scenic Triangle" between Laura, Cooktown and Lakeland. Laura is only a few kilometres from the southern entrance to Lakefield National Park.
Location: 314 km north west of Cairns; 2104 km north west of Brisbane.
Events: The Laura Dance Festival is a premier celebration of Aboriginal culture in Cape York. It is a biennial event held every uneven year (eg. 2013) show casing the culture of the Aboriginal people of Cape York through song and dance ceremony performance.
Laura typifies a Cape York settlement - birds feeding in the Mango trees, the native police prison, the traction engine and railway steps in front of the general store and post office. All are European tributes to the Palmer gold rush and the days of the Cooktown to Laura railway.
In the Centre of town is the Quinkan Regional Cultural Centre. It is the region Visitor Information Centre and offers a well presented insight into the pioneering history of Cape York and its rich Aboriginal culture.
Laura art site Cape York Peninsula is known as Quinkan country, where ancient paintings known as Quinkans, eerily reminiscent of the Bradshaw Aboriginal figures of the Kimberley, have been recorded now in some 1,500 sites.
Human occupation of rock shelters in the Quinkan area near Laura has been dated back 37,000 years, making the Aboriginal art here the oldest art on the face of the earth. They were made by Ang-Gnarra Aborigines and were unknown to whites until the 1950s. The major of motifs are of Quinkans, said to be Aboriginal spirit beings who overlook the tribe, lurking in caves and other dark places and who come out at night. Some Aborigines even refuse to pronounce their name, because they believe Quinkans are very powerful.
The Quinkans were "discovered" as recently as 1959 by Captain Percy Trezise, then an airline pilot, who had often flown over the area and seen the Aboriginal sites from the air. After visiting the Split Rock gallery he realised that it must be one of many located in the area and began a program of exploration and recording of the Quinkan art.
Following his discovery in 1959, some 1,500 sites have been recorded by Percy Trezise over the last 30 years on canvas. Theses Canvases are now held in the archives of the Institute of Aboriginal Studies in Canberra. In order to protect the extensive body of rock art in the Laura district Percy Trezise strived to have the area declared a Reserve, this he achieved in 1975, ensuring the preservation of these ancient drawings for the future generations.
Permission is needed from the Aboriginal Rangers at Laura to enter the reserve and visit any sites.
Split Rock Gallery: A very well preserved Aboriginal Art Site managed by the Ang-Gnarra people. A large split rock with a sheltered side has allowed the paintings here to be maintained to a very high standard. They are approximately 13,000 years old, with the oldest occupation of the Quinkan area dated at 32,000 years.
Most of the motifs in the art galleries are red, finger-painted with hematite (powdered iron ore). The pigment had permanently bonded to the sandstone, to remain visible for millennia. Therock art galleries at Split Rock can be viewed as a self guided tour or guided tours can be arranged through the Quinkan Regional and Cultural Centre.
Brief history: In 1873, cattle were brought into the area by James Earl and it soon became a thriving township catering for the miners who were making their way from the port at Cooktown to the goldfields at Palmer River. A railway line between Cooktown and Palmer River reached Laura in 1888, but the decline of the goldfields saw Laura becoming the terminus for the route. The final section of track was never laid. At its height the railway carried more than 20 000 passengers each year.
Origin of name: the Laura River was explored by Archibald Macmillan in 1873. He named it after his wife. The settlement takes its name from the river.
Queensland's second largest park features spectacular wetlands and extensive river systems. Hann and Kalpowar crossings are two of the many significant Aboriginal cultural heritage sites featuring Quinkan figures to be found in this landscape. Within the Park is Laura Homestead, associated with the establishment of the cattle industry on Cape York Peninsula and the Palmer River Goldfields.