Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Raymond Terrace (2324)

"We catched fish and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn't ever feel like talking loud, and it warn't often that we laughed—only a little kind of a low chuckle." - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain 

Raymond Terrace is a NSW river town which is snuggled beside the junction of two important river systems, the Hunter and Williams. It is this unique position that allowed Raymond Terrace to quickly flourish and grow during the second half of the 19th century.

When convicts were sent to Newcastle in 1804, one of their tasks was the hewing of the stands of cedar that flourished in the Hunter Valley and floating that timber down the Hunter River to the Newcastle sawmill. After the convicts were removed from Newcastle in 1823, vast tracts of cleared land were readily occupied by farmers and with the raising of those crops then came the issue of getting produce from the area to the markets of Sydney. The quickest and easiest way was by using the river to achieve this purpose using paddle steamers. Being at heart of the two river systems the township of Raymond Terrace was quickly established as a vital transport hub .  

The population quickly grew and so Raymond Terrace became one of the first country Post Offices in NSW with Mr George Oliver (publican) appointed Postmaster on the 1st August 1834. As was the fashion of these early Post Offices, it was situated in the Junction Inn. Raymond Terrace not only handled local mail but also mail from as far away as Scone and Port Macquarie. This mail was initially transported to Raymond Terrace by horse, however, it later came by coach and was then dispatched on the Hunter River steamers.  The cost of sending a letter from Raymond Terrace was 4d. 

The site for first purpose built Raymond Terrace Post Office was acquired in 1868 when the telegraph came to the area, funnily enough it was located next door to the Junction Inn! This served until 1877 when residents complained to the Postmaster General, that the building was in a dilapidated condition and being on the riverfront, not accessible during the frequent flooding of the area. 

In 1879 a new site was purchased for £120 at 61 Port Stephens Street and the building was completed in July 1880. The building itself was a basic two story construction, built in the favoured design of the period being a Renaissance design of brick with painted stucco walls and slate roof. This wonderful building, designed by NSW Government Architect James Barnet,  served Australia Post for over 100 years before being hawked off to Fry Brothers Funerals.

In what must have seemed going against popular wisdom prevalent at Australia Post at the time, they actually built another purpose built Post Office, complete with a $250,000 turntable (for rotating delivery vehicles of up to 12 tonne) and two double motorcycle storage sheds,  at 35 Sturgeon Street. This building should have lasted for another 100 years, however this was not to be and the building was eventually sold off and has since been occupied by the local MP Bob Baldwin. 

This extravagant purpose built building lasted for just over a decade! 

The fourth and current Post Office is now located within the Centro Shopping Centre and is just another bland shop in a bland shopping centre, located next to the Go-Lo Discount store with a Dorothy The Dinosaur kiddies ride located outside the front glass doors. Although handy for shoppers, it hardly reflects the importance that the Post Office has held in the Raymond Terrace community for over 175 years 

It would seem that the glory days of postal services in Raymond Terrace has past & with that passing, the rich history of courage and dogged determination to serve this thriving community is, like the the  former river steamers, sadly, becoming just a memory.

      O' man river,
Dat ol' man river,
He mus'know sumpin'
But don't say nuthin'
He jes' keeps rollin'
He keeps on rollin' along.
Long ol' river forever keeps rollin' on...

(Unfortunately this isn't a complete history of the Post Office in Raymond Terrace. A lot of recent information post 1984 is missing and any assistance in completing this history will be greatly appreciated. I would also like to thank the staff at Raymond Terrace library for their patience & assistance)

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