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.

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