Leuralla Toy & Railway Museum
Leura, NSW, Australia

Independent – Contents Page

A journey through the microscape... Toy Railway Viaduct, Leuralla

Ben Connor and his nephew visit Leuralla Toy & Railway Museum and bridge the generation gap.

Action man was making his way up a Jacob’s ladder. Looking particularly manly in his light orange parker, designer goggles and brown corduroy pants he stretched out all angular to the diagonally curving rope of the wood slatted ladder, swinging in the elements as an unseen helicopter whisked him away from enemy fire.

Only a few steps away, in one of the finest displays of pomp ever to grace an Indian city during the esteemed period of the British Raj, colourful turban headed stilt walkers; gazebo topped, jewel bedecked elephants; crisp black and red uniformed Indian Soldiers; tabla drummers; flutists and all manner of entertainers marched the palm tree flanked streets of Bombay while spectators, hawkers and fruit stall operators bustled about its sides…

“Wait, wait, this is coool!”

My 4-year-old nephew drew my attention to yet another visual enticement. “It’s Lego; a train, with a little mouse on top!” he exclaimed.

The lower shelf of yet another timber framed, toy cluttered, glass display case was showing off (as with action man and that classic Bombay street parade) the latest in Harry Potter merchandise. The train was no less than Hogwart’s Express, a bright red Lego steam train sidled up to Platform Nine and Three Quarters.

So, here’s my spiel. Should a period of distance, either physical (years overseas, like myself, perhaps) or emotional, have you feeling the need to bridge any lost connection with a son, daughter, niece, nephew or any other significant minor, a jaunt up to Leura in the Blue Mountains this spring or summer is likely to do wonders. Hot chocolate and pastries in a village café followed by a trip to Leuralla, the Toy and Railway Museum – a toy filled white mansion, surrounded by salubrious gardens, on a majestic cliff top overlooking the Jamieson valley – has all the ingredients for a leisurely bonding experience: beauty, pleasure, fun and… numerous opportunities for silliness.

Hedged To Impress... Leuralla Gardens' Drive

The Leuralla mansion was built pre-World War 1, its design strongly influenced by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Massive rooms with high ceilings are resplendent with French polished timber carved door and window frames and complimentary carved wooden furniture – the timber furniture, frames, trimmings and grand timber stairway are said to have taken two years to complete. Rooms serve one of two purposes: as representations of early 20th Century domesticity – roped at the doorways (with original beds, lounges, lamps, bed covers, a few toys scattered about the children’s rooms etc) – or toy display rooms filled with glass display cabinets. The cabinets are crammed with toys from the last hundred years, some individual and distinct, many though as sets, arranged, as the Leuralla website boasts, to, “represent society in miniature… a three-dimensional illustration of the actual time”. The rigid, yet detailed and colourful, historical and imaginary characters, transports, weapons, implements and terrain on display in Leuralla have been sparking fires in the imaginations of children for generations.

Now, for this bonding thing to work, of course, you must engage. An ability to regress to an early childhood state is necessary. This really shouldn’t be too difficult. Dr Who (in Tom Baker incarnation), Davros, his Dalek minions and the lovable and ingeniously named Canine, the Doctor’s robot dog, are likely to get you started. There are Noddy dolls (controversial Golliwogs and all); some exceptional Popey merchandise (including fabulous 1940’s wind-up toys, Popey boats, planes and automobiles, picture books and tins of spinach); Archie dolls and comic books; all manner of representations of Snow White and her seven dwarves; Alice in wonderland (a mad hatters tea party is a stand-out); Buck Rogers; Space Ranger; a whole

Troubled Water... World War II Toy Diorama

case dedicated to James Bond escapism and… much, much more.

But it’s not all fun and games; it’s history and games as well – an opportunity to sow a few seeds for future historical scholarship. A toy miniature representation of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo on 28th June, 1914, with the small plate reading, “The spark that ignited World War 1”, is a case in point. A dashing looking Gavrilo, frozen mid stroll, making his way across the glass shelf, pistol in hand, faces a detailed, shinny green, Ford Model T-like vehicle in which the Archduke and his wife are seated, awaiting their fate. Of course World War 1 and its causes could be seen as bit much for a 4-year-old child. Older children might be more receptive.

Should you be wishing to feel a little more worldly and wise, the museum also doubles as a small museum to HV Evatt, the mansions most distinguished previous occupant. In a room upstairs, at the top of the old timber stairs, a small permanent photographic exhibition to this accomplished Australian politician will impress. Evatt was a lawyer, author, High Court Judge, Attorney General, Minister of External Affairs, Federal Leader of the Opposition and President of the UN General Assembly in 1948-49. He was a driving force in the creation of the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the passing of which he witnessed in his presidential role. As the museum boasts, the photographs are a “who’s who of international politics of the 1930s, 40s and 50s”. A wonderful black and white image of Evatt and his wife on camel back in Egypt in 1926, the sphinx and the pyramids in the background, gives a light contrast to power infused images like Churchill and Evatt inspecting the British Armoured Division near London in 1942 (a long row of equally spaced soldiers on a rural roadside, their rifles angled in perfect unison), or Evatt addressing the UN General Assembly as its President. A glass toy display case in the rooms centre offsets the exhibition on the surrounding walls, giving your kid an inside lane while you take the outside – everybody satisfied. A booklet detailing Evatt’s impressive life and exploits is available at the Museum’s front desk for $5, but some knowledge can be gleaned from the exhibitions accompanying information.

World War II Toy Diorama

Step outside and left down the grand, split white stair at the mansions entrance and make your way around the corner (while taking in the lush English garden) to a mock wooden train station building adorned with random train signs. Its entrance to the left leads into a short hallway with views, through metal grates into two massive toy dioramas. One is a typical train set. The other offers more opportunities for parental history telling. Hundreds of toy soldiers are arranged across a WWII battlefield with a river in the foreground. Focus in on any particular figure and you find that, most at least, are engaged in activities and interactions completely in keeping with their surroundings. In the background, to the left, battle rages, complete with plastic frozen red and yellow explosions, charging infantry and cavalry coming up the rear. There’s a suspended, dive-bombing fighter plane and a tank bogged in the mire. In the foreground soldiers sit around a fire, one shaving, another playing an accordion, while the others eat or sleep; behind them men wash by the river. There are Red Cross vans and tents, men carrying stretches, marching soldiers, machine gunners and all manner of military vehicles.

On the other side of this building is an impressive outdoor train set with a massive tunneled mountain and lower alpine valley. Get your child to press a little white button and, to his or her satisfaction, the trains will move around.

Walk down the tree colonnaded drive to admire the garden, an old barn and ye-oldie-worldy setting. Your Leuralla experience is now over, your child is bubbling with quirky little things to talk about and you’re likely to be feeling pretty warm and fuzzy inside.

My advice is that you bring up your Leuralla memories often. When you take the time to build a bridge, it’s a shame to see it breaking.

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