History of Leeton

Leeton and Yanco exist due to the activity of wealthy Irish landholder, Samuel McCaughey, who on his property ‘North Yanko’, demonstrated that irrigation was possible. He built dams and re-directed water on his own land to show politicians that it could be done. His influence led the government to commence constructing a giant irrigation scheme in 1906, and in 1912 the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA) was officially opened.

Leeton’s layout owes much to the design work of influential American architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney Griffin, who also designed the neighbouring town of Griffith following their successful design of Canberra.

The town was named after Charles Alfred Lee, the NSW Minister of Public Works, who oversaw the development of the irrigation scheme.

Six-hundred people lived in Leeton in 1913, mostly in canvas tents, when the first town allotments were released. Take-up was slow due to the loss of young men and their labour to World War I, and then the flu epidemic of 1919. More farms were created part of the post-war Soldiers’ Settlement Plan and in 1922, the town entered a boom period.

Most of Leeton’s public buildings were built in this period. The streetscape was influenced by the Art Deco movement of the 1920s and 1930s, featuring geometric forms, cantilevered awnings and streamlined profile. Most Art Deco facades and some interiors have been preserved.