Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fairground Attraction

One of the big events in Newcastle (NSW) is the Annual Newcastle Regional Show, an event that each year keeps on growing and gives support to the local rural industries and farmers from around the region. Also, much to the dismay of the local Newcastle Chamber of Commerce, the Friday is gazetted as a public holiday for residents within the Newcastle LGA (this was originally done so schools could organise excursions to the show and show city kids where our produce comes from). 

The show has been icon on the local calendar since 1902 (although the first  Newcastle and District Agricultural Horticultural and Industrial Association was formed in 1899) and except during 1916 (WW1, used as a Military Camp), 1919 (influenza) and 1941 - 45 (WW2 Staging Area), the show has been delighting Novacastrians with all the colour and excitement that a regional show can bring.  

This year the Newcastle Regional Show was once again a tremendous place to spend a day and enjoy the unique atmosphere. In fact I actually spent two days at the show, one day with the grand - daughter and the next with my wife (so we could visit all the boring exhibits, lol). The weather was perfect, the grounds were immaculate and the place had a real vibe, a real sense of community, something you don't seem to find in the bigger capital city Agricultural Shows.

Once again, for convenience, I armed myself with the go anywhere Sanyo 1275S camera and tried to capture some of the colour and excitement. It wasn't a hard task. In the main ring there was jousting, stunt motor bikes, the V6 Hi-Lux Heroes stunt drivers, there was cattle judging, the strength of the woodchoppers on display, the excitement of Sideshow Alley (with the spruiking call of the carnies), in the Hall of Industries there were displays of handicraft, cakes, paintings, wrestling demonstration, model train displays and of course the ubiquitous showbag concession stands, with their overpriced, tacky, tooth decay inducing offerings, which of course I had to buy! 

You could, if you so desired, have a Chinese massage or even get your future told in an area I called Shonky Alley and  this year, there was something that I had never seen before, dancing dogs, believe me a tacky, surreal, experience not to be missed! 

I really do hope that the Newcastle Regional Show continues to operate in its current format and continues to provide an important link between our rural and city communities.

See you again in 2011

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - East Maitland (2323)

In August 1971 the No.1 song on radio station 2HD was 'Eagle Rock' by local Australian group Daddy Cool and GMH had just released the iconic HQ Holden . If you were driving down Lawes Street East Maitland in your new HQ, listening to Daddy Cool on the AM radio you may have witnessed the passing of an era when Australia Post  (actually it was still called the PMG then) opened its brand new, purpose built East Maitland Post Office and left its stately 95 year old Day Street premises.

East Maitland has a long history which can be traced back to 1829 when the  NSW Colonial Government Surveyor, General Mitchell, laid out town to serve as the 'Government' centre for the Maitland area. Since the area was separated by Wallis Creek the towns quickly became known as East and West Maitland. West Maitland had a longer history, first settled in the 1820's and it was also the site of the first Post Office in the region. The mail was originally was transported to Sydney via Newcastle, Morpeth and Raymond Terrace utilising the main transportation corridor, the river system. However, it was also very prone to flooding, due to its proximity to the Hunter River and so it was overlooked in favour of East Maitland as the 'new' administrative centre.  

It wasn't long after East Maitland began, that there were calls for its own Post Office to be established so locals wouldn't have to cross Wallis Creek to access postal services and they would not have to deal with the vagaries of a sometimes irregular mail delivery. However these calls fell on deaf ears in Sydney Town.

It wasn't until the 1st May1840 that the Postmaster General, James Raymond decided to co-locate the East Maitland Post Office with the Court House in Melbourne Street and use the Clerk of the Magistrate Court as the postmaster. This was a quite common practice in the early days of the colony, as such arrangements were already in place in West Maitland and Campbelltown. When the Court House moved in 1860, it appears that the Post Office stayed in the Melbourne Street premises and continued operations.

In the 1870's  the local East Maitland council made successful representations to the NSW Postmaster General for the establishment of a purpose built Post Office and with that James Barnet was commissioned to do the architectural work, with costs not to exceed £1,000. This commenced a great deal of anguish for the local council who were insisting that the Postmaster General select a site in Melbourne Street and were horrified when the Day Street site was selected as the preferred option. Day Street was selected due to it's proximity to the Great Northern Railway and the fact that the mail trains were able to stop at the newly constructed East Maitland Railway Station and Parcel Office. To be able to deliver all the mail for the whole district, including West Maitland, from Day Street, must have been seen as the most logical and prudent choice by the Postmaster General at the time . This didn't pacify the local council, as reports from the East Maitland Council meetings regularly contained the dismay of the local councillors in the selection of the Day Street site (as reported in the Maitland Mercury newspaper). Also when the plans were  revealed comments such as;

 "There is nothing in the building which entitles it to much credit in the score of architectural beauty, to which indeed it makes no pretensions, not being in Sydney. A country town wants no ornament, of course" - Maitland Mercury 18th March 1875

Despite all the internal council wrangling, in 1876 the East Maitland Post Office was finally opened for business. Following James Barnet's well used formula for such buildings, of being a cement rendered brick construction in the favoured Victorian Italianate 2 storey style. However, it did miss out on the usual slate roof and instead was constructed with a corrugated iron roof. What is also so special about this wonderful building is that even today , it still retains the original horse stables, unique sandstone front veranda and hitching rails.

This building was another property that was destined to never celebrate its centenary with Australia Post as it ceased to operate as a Post Office on the 3rd August 1971 and then became a recreation and meeting room for the Maitland branch of the Australian Postal Institute. On the 12th May 1986 Australia Post notified that the building was to be sold off and a piece of Australia Post history once again fell into private hands.

Although the Day Street site is a wonderful building, it did have major drawbacks such as high maintenance costs and isolation, especially when the commercial centre had moved to the less flood prone area of Lawes Street, leaving the old Post Office hanging around like the proverbial wallflower at the school dance ... 

"Now listen,
Oh we're steppin' out.
I'm will turn around,
Gonna turn around once and we'll do the Eagle Rock".

So if you are ever in East Maitland, take the drive down Day St and give the old girl a tip of the hat. I'm sure she'll appreciate it. 

P.S. This year also celebrates 170 years of continuous postal operations in East Maitland, also quite a proud achievement for Australia Post. 
P.S.S. The former jewel in the crown of East Maitland now, as of 2010, has a new owner, The Spastic Centre. The building has been thoroughly renovated and tastefully redecorated, both inside and out, highlighting the uniqueness of James Barnett's architectural style.  
I'd like to thank the staff at Maitland Library for their help in providing the resources to compile this article and to the State Library of NSW for the use of their historical photographs.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Keeping The Tradition

It is not surprising that sometimes when you look at your job you think, 'this job really sucks!', without looking past the present. Now this isn't uncommon and I think we tend to look at what is happening in our own bit of the cosmos as a benchmark and never take the the time to really look back at times past.

I have been looking into my working past quite a fair bit during my research into the 'The Lost Post Offices of Australia' series and I'm finding that there is very little that is new in my work as an Australia Post driver. We still have to contend with vagaries of the weather, the mishaps on our journey, irate customers and dare I say it, ineffective management.

Now my research isn't just going back a couple of years, or even a couple of decades, but as far back as the 1830's! The stories reflect how tough it must have been in those pioneering times with roads impassable, the stoic coach horse dying from exhaustion and the mailman sleeping on the side of roads until the tracks dried out sufficiently, sometimes for up to sixteen days (as was the case in 1852) before they could complete their journey.

So once again I followed I track that I have travelled before, this time armed with my new take anywhere friend , the Sanyo S1275 camera and followed the back tracks from Branxton to Maitland, passing through sleepy Hunter Valley localities such as Windemere, Gosforth and Luskintyre. This time I looked at the landscape through the eyes of not someone who was driving a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, but as someone who had to traverse the area on horseback.

It was a stunning vista, low early morning cloud, lush rolling fields and babbling brooks to visually take your breath away with each new turn of the corner. It wasn't until I came to a Hunter River crossing called Melville Ford, that the realities of how harsh this stunning area can be, for at Melville Ford there are the battered remains of two former bridges, each standing as a silent testament to how ferocious this river can be when in flood.      

Yes, I'll continue to whine about how tough work is, however I know that I won't be sitting at Melville Ford Bridge for 16 days watching my horse die from starvation.

Sort of brings our working life back into perspective.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Campbelltown (2560)

On the 1st December 1820, in front of 50 to 60 farmers in a paddock about 50 kilometres south west of Sydney Town, Governor Lachlan Macquarie declared that this would be the site of his 'new' town. The Governor later wrote in his journal,  "This ceremony having gone through, I named the township Campbell-Town in honour of Mrs Macquarie's maiden name, and on my pronouncing this name aloud, all present gave three hearty cheers in honour of the occasion…".  This new town was located on the edge of his main protagonist John Macarthur's huge Camden Park Estate and may be viewed as a deliberate attempt to antagonise his rival in the fledging colony 

The only problem was, not long after this bold proclamation, Governor Macquarie was sent back to England and replaced by Governor Brisbane. Not that this helped the town grow and by 1823, Campbell Town only had a church and a few bark huts.

The years continued to roll on and Brisbane was replaced by Governor Darling in 1826. Darling had the first plans drawn up  for the town in 1827, the streets were actually named, everything was ready and then once again, nothing much happened, although farmers continued to take up selections around the district.
With each new resident came the pressure to establish postal services and although a daily  (although ad hoc) mail run to Sydney had started as far back as 1826, the townsfolk wanted a better standard of postal services.

On the 8th March 1828 the first 'official' Post Office opened and was co-located at the local courthouse, which occupies the current courthouse site (the orginal courthouse operated as an Inn owned by Mr Daniel Cooper, until purchased and converted in 1827). This makes Campbelltown of one the first of seven country Post Offices opened in NSW. The first Postmaster, Mr James Scarr was also employed as the Clerk to the Chamber of Magistrates, so he would have been fairly busy attending to both duties. The mail arrived from Sydney via Liverpool by carriage at 8am on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, with all outgoing mail ready to be dispatched on these duties. This may also explain the regular turnover of ealy Postmasters, their postal work and court duties would have been horrendous!

It wasn't until 1831 that settlers were finally allowed to take up selections in the new town, eleven years after Lachlan Macquarie's ambitious proclamation. Housing took off with residents quickly taking advantage of the cheaper land and finally the fledgling town began to take shape.

Sometime around the 1850's the Post Office moved into Bursill's Shop at 292 Queens Street (pictured below), when Mr William Fowler took over the running of the Post Office.

There were several more moves of the Post Office, back down Queens Street to Mr John Brays premises opposite Patrick Street (It is interesting to note that the Post Office lost its 'official' status in 1868 probably due to falling revenues, although I could not find any information that mentioned why) and then moving to the Railway Station in 1869. 

Due to community condemnation, mainly due to of lack of space, the NSW Postmaster General agreed to give the running of the Post Office back to Mr John Bray. This was no easy alliance, with constant battles over the rental of the premises, remuneration for work performed and was probably the catalyst for the NSW Postmaster General to review the postal services in the area. A quick look at revenues for 1877 show -
  • Post - £243
  • Telegraph - £123
  • Money Order - £9
In 1878 the NSW Postmaster General requested that a suitable site be found for a new purpose built Post Office, so after several sites were considered the Postmaster General purchase a block of land from the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney at 261 Queen Street for £400. Tenders were were let for the James Barnet designed  Post Office, once again featuring the familiar cement rendered classic revival 'Italianate' style, with curved arch portico and slate roof. It is interesting to note that the local citizens of Campbelltown demanded and recieved an impressive town clock, which was incorporated into James Barnet's original design. The total cost of construction, including the clock, came to £1,990.

It must have been a proud day for the citizens of Campbelltown when the fully completed Post Office was opened to the public on the 18th June 1883.

This fine Post Office was also one the first to fall victim to Australia Post's push to update it's property portfolio and in 1975 in a move that defied logic, Australia Post just moved out and into their new premises located in Dumaresq Street, leaving this wonderful historic building empty. The stand off between Australia Post and the local council continued for nearly a decade, with Post offering the site to the council for the (then) unrealistic price of $200,000. A Permanent Conservation Order was finally placed over the building on 22 July 1983 as part of the sale of the building into private ownership thus saving this building from any possible demolition. Today this wonderful James Barnet designed building contains shops on the ground floor and office space of the upper floor. 

It may not be a Post Office anymore, but it is still a beautiful building and one that complements the wonderful historic Campbelltown streetscape.

I'd like to acknowledge the invaluable contribution of the Campbelltown Council Library Local Studies section and The Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society for their use of their time and resources in compiling this blog. 

Monday, March 1, 2010

When The Mountain Just Isn't Enough

I decided to go back to Wellington (NSW) to visit some friends and explore some more of this fascinating area. Now there aren't too many people that, on the last weekend of summer, would purposely drive the 4 arduous hours to visit this region, most would prefer to visit some of our wonderful coastal locations. However, I like to be just a little bit different!

Wellington is situated about 360 kilometres west of Sydney and is nestled between to major river systems the Macquarie and the Bell. The town also sits at the foot of the triple peaked 533 metre Mt Arthur. The Mt Arthur Reserve is a 1300 hectare area set aside for public recreation and one of the best things to do is to go bushwalking along its many trails, keeping an eye out for some of the 530 species of flora including bryophytes and lichens. It was also from the Mt Arthur area that the explorer John Oxley climbed on the 18th August 1817 and in his notebook noted that -

"On ascending a range of hills which lay directly across our course, we had a prospect of a fine and spacious valley - our descent to it was rendered difficult by lofty, rocky hills forming deep and irregular glens, so narrow that I feared we should not be able to follow their windings, the rocks being such perpendicular masses as seemingly to debar our passage."
After scaling Mt Arthur (a bit easier now  than in 1817, thanks to the dedicated walking trails) we decided to pay another visit to the wonderful Osawano Japanese Gardens. In this peaceful setting one can almost imagine that they have transported themselves back to the court of the Japanese Royal Family, except there is a whopping great big gum tree located nearly dead centre to the gardens. Although the contrast of oriental delicateness and this iconic Australian tree can be visually jolting, It really does give the gardens a unique 'Aussie' feel.   

One would think that you could cover all there was see in Wellington in one day, but to really do it properly, it has to be done over a couple of days. With so many photographic opportunities available, I can't wait for my next visit.