European explorers travelled through the area in 1848 and were soon followed by gold seekers and cattle graziers. The Palmer River gold rush of 1873 brought a substantial invasion of Europeans that led to dramatic changes for local people. Some of the people became fringe dwellers around mining camps and towns while others were forced on to missions and government reserves. The present-day township of Laura was founded in 1888 when the railway line was extended to the site from Cooktown.

In 1960, during construction of the Peninsula Development Road, the Split Rock and Giant Horse rock art galleries were endangered by road construction crews. Percy Trezise recognised the importance of the galleries and actively recorded them and campaigned for their protection. The sites were declared a protected area in 1972 and the Eastern and Western Quinkan Reserves were established in 1977.

In 1991 the Aboriginal Land Act 1991 (Qld) was passed and the Kuku Thaypan people obtained freehold title over the Quinkan Reserves and over the grounds where the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival is held every two years on the banks of the Laura River.

The people

According to the 2011 Census there are 80 people in Laura, with two thirds being female (60%) and a third being male (30%).

Laura has 55 people that identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, making up almost 70% of the local population.

Laura history1

Dancing up a storm

A child concentrates during a traditional dance at the Laura Festival

Laura history2

Down the generations

A toddler watches traditional dancing at the 2013 Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival