Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Sandhurst (Bendigo, 3550 )

It was a chance discovery of a payable quantity of a precious metal that is ductile, malleable & found in quartz, commonly known as GOLD in 1851, that built the modern rural city of Bendigo. A city that is still growing to this very day.

Of course if you are going to have a vibrant growing city, you are going to need a growing vibrant Post Office!

Now prior to 1851, Bendigo was known as Bendigo Creek (named for an employee on a local property who was nicknamed 'Bendigo' after the famous Pommy prizefighter William Bendigo
Thompson), however, when the town was declared the name Sandhurst was chosen (named after a town in England) as much more proper & fitting moniker. The story of how this city changed its name back to Bendigo to reflect its original heritage is, in itself, a story of change that is woven into the rich tapestry of this thriving regional city. The timeline of the Sandhurst/Bendigo Post Office is probably unique, in so much as how it reflects the events & the fortunes that have shaped the destiny of this city from a quiet Victorian sheep grazing property to one of Australia's premier historical districts.

Along with the continually changing cityscape came the changing of the Post Office to reflect not only the needs of the community, but also to reflect the prosperity of the city & the pride felt by the community as it continued to thrive.

With those changes, there have been four major Post Office buildings, each one more grandiose than the previous & reflected the communities confidence. That was up until 1995 however, when Australia Posts property portfolio was reduced by one historically significant building & they then leased one nondescript property that looks as though it was a former cinema.

The first Post Office began operations 1853 & operated basically only for the receipt & distribution

of letters around the goldfields. With the arrival of the telegraph in 1858, a more specific building was required to suit the new age of communication & so a more substantial structure was built. These new premises were once described " .... something like a bad style of bush public house, but not nearly so convenient". This building lasted until 1869, when increasing patronage again required another major improvement. The third Post Office was then constructed in View St & is a two storeyed rendered brick building designed by William Wilkinson Wardell. This wonderful old building is still in use today & is now occupied by Sandhurst Trustees, who bought the building in 1891.

The prosperity & population growth of the Bendigo goldfields once again played a part in the construction of the forth Post Office, at the time, the most extravagant building constructed outside Melbourne. Designed by Government Archetect Major George Watson & costing around £50,000 it was opened on the 30th September 1887.

This was no ordinary Post Office, constructed using the architectural style known as the French Second Empire & had scalloped slate roof tiles, intricate iron work, cast iron lion heads, classic Corinthian columns, beautiful interior timber carvings which gave the Post Office a real feel of the regions wealth. It was also a centre for other government services, such as the Government Surveyor, Water Board & various other instrumentalities. It also had quite palatial accommodation for the Postmaster & his family on the upper floors. The most striking feature of this building is of course the 43 metre clock tower & its 5 bell carillon, making this building a true architectural masterpiece.

When Australia Post vacated the building in 1995, luckily, the building was not lost to the citizens of Bendigo & it was reborn as the the Bendigo Tourist Information Centre. Not only is this the grandest Tourist Information Centre in the country, but it also
houses one the best Postal/Telegraph museums in Australia & is well worth a visit.

So while the current Post Office stands on the cnr Williamson & Hargreaves St, like some hussy trolling for clients, the former Post Office building stands stately in Pall Mall, remaining as dignified as she has done for the last 122 years & will continue to stand for many years to come.

Authors note: Although every effort was used to verify the information, I found historical dates varied from source to source & if further verifiable information becomes available I'll update the blog.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

When The Country Comes To The Coast

A severe weather phenomena swept over NSW today, bringing winds that were gusting at over 100 kph, whipping up dust clouds from central Australia & dumping around a 1,000 million of tonnes of topsoil all over the NSW coastal regions, giving the skies an eerie, almost martian orange glow.

So making sure that I didn't miss out on this unique event, I grabbed the trusty Canon 400D & headed out into the wind to photograph this rare weather event, concentrating my efforts around the Newcastle Foreshore precinct.

To be honest I have never seen anything like this before & even from Queens Wharf you couldn't see the Stockton ferry wharf, a distance of only 700 mtrs, due to the dust! The wind & lack of visibility was making life a miserable experience for anyone that was forced to work outside & away from a sheltered environment. The conditions were even bad enough to close Newcastle Port to shipping, however, our intrepid Stockton ferry kept of ploughing through the wind & the muck, thanks to its excellent radar systems & the skill of the ferry captains & crew. Takes more than a bit of wind, to to deter a tough Novocastrian!

I also went down to Nobbys Beach to check out the conditions on the coast & was met by the same terrible conditions, Nobbys was totally obscured by the dust & Fort Scratchley was only just visible
from the beach. Not a good day to be power walking along the beach front!

The whole of Newcastle was blanketed by this enormous dust storm & although the pictures do look like they were shot through a red filter, or manipulated through colour saturation, what I've downloaded is the actual view. I did sharpen & straighten a few of the shots, but basically this is what I was looking at.

Yes, today the country really did come to the coast & was driven by some of the worst weather conditions to hit Newcastle since the 2007 Pasha Bulker storm. Luckily I was there to capture the moment.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Newcastle (2300)

It was a day that was eagerly anticipated by the citizens of Newcastle, the 2nd biggest city in NSW and it was perhaps the biggest day since the 5th September 1859 when Newcastle was declared a city, although there would have been other major civil celebrations, like when the first council meeting for the Borough of Newcastle was held. However, the day in question was the opening of the Newcastle Post Office, on the 8th August 1903.

Never before had the citizens seen such an occasion, the streets were full of red white and blue

bunting, various bands played non-stop throughout the day, children whooped it up along Hunter Street, while ladies and gentlemen in all their finery paraded & met each other with all the courtesy that is usually only afforded to royalty. The highlight of the day was of course the official opening ceremony which was performed by the then Postmaster General Senator James Drake.

Now this wasn't Newcastle's first Post Office, but the third, the first one began operating in 1828 (which makes it even older than Melbourne's first PO by 9 years!) and then the second more substantial Post Office was was built on the corner of Watt and Hunter St. in 1872. It remained here until the good citizens of Newcastle demanded a better and more serviceable building to suit the growing needs of the community.

With the grand opening in 1903, Newcastle at last had a Post Office that was the pride of, not only the city of Newcastle and the Hunter Region, but also of NSW.

The Post Office was designed by the NSW Government Architect, Walter Vernon and is one of the finest examples of Edwardian Classical architecture seen in Australia. With its ground-floor arcade, first-floor colonnade, parapet and cupolas, Vernon apparently based the design of Newcastle Post Office on Palladio's Basilica at Vicenza. The Post Office was completed in just over 3 years and cost an estimated £40,000 (which would be about $6 million in today's figures), which was proof that the Post Office considered this building as a real investment for future generations of Novocastrians!

But time eventually moves on and during the late 1990's, Australia Post embarked on a complete re-structure of its property portfolio. High maintenance buildings were earmarked for closure and with that came the inevitable decision to sell Newcastle's grand lady. Newcastle wasn't left without a Post Office, the new Post Office, located in Market Street, is a soulless modern affair that is now hidden away next to a pedestrian overpass and is easily passed by.

In 2001, Australia Post finally sold off this wonderful heritage building for $2million, making it the worst commercial sale in Newcastle's history, Australia Post managed to lose approximately $4 million on a property that had owed for 98 years!

We didn't even get to celebrate the centenary of this wonderful Newcastle icon, there was no
colourful bunting along Hunter St, no kids running joyously between the honey coloured sandstone archways, no music being played from the balconies and no long winded speeches from the assembled dignitaries. The 8th August 2008 was just another uneventful Newcastle Monday and heralded nothing special, just the wind whipping up the rubbish like confetti that was left fluttering around behind the stark security fencing. Hardly the sort of centenary celebration that should have been built around this Newcastle icon.

Today, Newcastle's grand old lady is now just a neglected shell of its former beauty, home now to flocks of pigeons & subject to the inevitable vandal attack. The cenotaph, which is still located out the front of the former jewel in Australia Post crown, is perhaps symbolic of the way we all now look at this former magnificent building, standing with our backs to the building and our gaze averted.