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.



Anonymous said...

Thanks john for the info and pictures. It erally helped me with my assignmnet!!


The Reverend said...

Glad to help out