Monday, May 31, 2010

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Weston (2326)

The Weston Post Office has a rather unique claim to fame, it was one of the last of three Post Office's to be constructed by the NSW Government in 1916, the others were at Warren and Delungra. It is also interesting to note that while the Australian Postmaster-Generals Department was established at Federation, full control of the postal powers and operations  were not handed over to the Commonwealth till 1917 in NSW.

The quaint Federation Bungalow style was the chosen design for country Post Offices of the period and this is the style that was chosen for Weston. There was no hint of the 'Italianate' beauty that was a hallmark of the James Barnett period, nor neither the 'baroque' elegance of  the Walter Vernon's period, by this stage Post Office design had become standardised and functional. The halcyon days of Post Office design faded during the tenure of George McRae, as responsibility and costs were slowly transferred to the Commonwealth.

The history of Weston and many other Lower Hunter coalfields towns, were founded on what was known as the Greta Coal Measures, a 245 million year old coal seam that runs from the Illawarra escarpment to southern Queensland and uplifts in the Cessnock area. This uplift was extensively mapped by Sir T.W. Edgeworth David in 1886 and proved attractive to the major coal companies, as the Newcastle coal seams had started to peter out by the late 1800's. The Australian Agricultural Company (A.A.C.) decided to begin operations on this seam around the turn of the century and in late 1902 they advised the government that they were about to sink its first shaft at the new Hebburn Colliery.

Weston, developed close to the Hebburn No.1 Colliery, was originally called Geordietown and was one of many Hunter coalfields towns that were built by private companies (such as AAC), with blocks of land sold in massive auctions to potential employees. When people started moving into these coalfield towns, one of their first demands, after a hotel, was the Post Office and Weston was no different in these demands.

Postal services were established relatively quickly, when compared to other rural area's (probably with the urging of the mining companies) and so on the 25th January 1904, Mr William Walters was appointed the postmaster and he ran the Post Office from his premises on the Cnr of Station Rd and Third Ave. The Morse telegraph arrived in August 1904, after the line was strung from Kurri Kurri and by December 1905, the telephone had arrived in town. Weston was proving to be quite a goldmine for postal services, the quantity of mail alone in 1905 was;

26,988 - mail articles sent, &
32,768 - mail articles received

In 1906 the Postmaster-General must have been more than happy with Mr Walters as they extended his contract for another 3 years and included mail deliveries (1/2 mile radius) and telegram deliveries (1 mile radius) in the new contract.

It was with this new extended contract that proved to be the last, as business had expanded so much, so quickly, that Mr Walters even had to employ children to do the letter delivery side of the business. In 1910, the Postmaster-General decided to upgrade the Post Office to official status and Mr Walters took his retirement. The Postmaster-General took over the lease of the existing Post Office premises from Mr Walters for £52 per annum ($37,000). However, the public were soon demanding a better Post Office and one located closer to the main town.

After much agonising over the location and delays bought on by the outbreak World War 1, in 1916, Weston finally had its own purpose built Post Office.

This fine building survived in the Australia Post property portfolio for the next 80 years, becoming part of community, living through, economic Depression, various wars and mine closures (Hebburn No.1 closed in 1972). As the population drifted, so did the requirement for a dedicated Post Office and so in 1996, as with many Post Offices around that time, the building was sold off and the operations transferred to LPO status.

Today the Post Office is combined with a video/DVD rental store and is struggling to maintain revenues during the current postal downturn. However their fight to survive is testament to the tenacious attitude of the coalfields people in that they continue to fight for their town, hoping that the coal trains that are now once again rumbling along the nearby train tracks will herald a resurgence in the towns prosperity.  

Perhaps the postman will, once again ring twice, for the tiny coalfields town of Weston. 

I'd to thank Brian Andrews & the staff from Sir Edgeworth David Memorial Museum at Kurri Kurri for all their assistance in compiling this blog.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

When The Rain Is A Pain That Can Drive You Insane

As I mentioned in my last blog 'A State Of Origin Story'  about the troubles I had when trying to photograph around the North Sydney area during a torrential downpour, well that didn't stop me from at least attempting to capture some of the essence of Australia's number one city.

My walk started around the North Sydney area and would you believe there is a James Barnett designed North Sydney Post Office, completed in 1888 at a cost of  £4,500 (that was the cost for the Post Office only, today that would be around $4million!) sitting on the corner of the Pacific Highway and Mount Street , it is now swamped by the larger office towers. Now what is also interesting is that the clock tower wasn't added until 1895, when Walter Liberty Vernon was the NSW Government Architect and so if you look closely at the clock tower you'll notice that it is not of the same design of the main building, showing a more 'baroque' architectural style, than Barnett's original 'Italianate' design. The cost of adding that clock tower was £965 (around $800,000). Also prior to 28th August 1890, North Sydney was known as St Leonards (now a suburb located further up the Pacific Highway) and so it will, or should be, celebrating 120 years of service to the good citizens of the area this year. 

The Post Office wasn't the reason for my photographic adventure, although it did it did prove to be an interesting diversion. My walk continued down to Lavender Bay, which has wonderful views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from the west and then around to the iconic Luna Park. It was here that rain was pelting down so hard that I didn't even bother to photograph that wonderful Sydney landmark, I just ran for the relative cover of the Sydney Harbour Bridge approaches at Milsons Point.

Now if you are looking for one of the best vantage points for trying to photograph the Sydney CBD skyline or the Opera House, I would suggest there is no other better spot than just at the park located under the pylons of the bridge at Milsons Point, even during a torrential downpour, the shots are spectacular.

Unfortunately as the weather became worse, with the wind starting to blow the rain horizontal and making it even harder to do any photography without damaging my Sanyo S1275 camera, I reluctantly gave up. Also, by this stage I was utterly soaked through, especially the shoes and socks, so with discretion being the better part of valour, I headed towards drier destinations.

I will definitely be heading back to that area of Sydney, to not only to photograph some of Australia's most iconic structures, but also to check out some of the history of the area, such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

I just love it.


Friday, May 28, 2010

A State Of Origin Story

One of Australia's biggest annual sporting fixtures is the Rugby League State Of Origin series, which is contested by the best representative Rugby League teams in the world, New South Wales (The Blues or Cockroaches) and Queensland (The Maroons or Canetoads). This year the opening game was being hosted by NSW at the ANZ Stadium (Olympic Park - Homebush).

Now normally I don't get to go to the State Of Origin games, due to the fact thay are played mid-week, they involve lots of travel and it is very expensive. So for the most part, like a lot of others, I'm usually confined to watching the game on television

However, not this year.

As luck would have my son was able to score some free tickets to the game, a series that promised to be the start of a NSW resurgence after a four series losing streak. 

Unfortunately someone forgot to tell the weather gods!

I decided to travel down to Sydney early to hopefully have lunch around the harbour, read a good book and take some wonderful pictures (using my Sanyo S1275 camera) of some of the stunning icons of Sydney, such as the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, before heading out to the game.

However, it rained.

It didn't just rain, it poured rain all afternoon, without a break and nearly wrecked my plans for a photographic stroll along the harbour . However, being a keen photographer I decided to go for a walk down to the harbour anyway and hoped that I would score a break in the weather. I did manage a few shots from under the relative protection of a fragile umbrella, but in the end I had to give up, I was soaked and the wind threatened to turn my flimsy canvas protection inside out.
I was so disappointed, it's not often I get to travel down to Sydney and when I do, I really do love to get out  with either of  my cameras, walk the streets and try to capture its stunning beauty. On this trip however, it was a wash out.

So it was off to Game 1 of the 2010 State Of Origin series and as luck would have it, it kept on raining. Although the it continued to rain (it did stop15 minutes into the game), the game itself was still a high quality contest and after 80 minutes of outstanding Rugby League, the Canetoads held out to win 28 - 24 and take a 1 nil lead in the 3 match series.

While the day was a washout, the game, and the experience was one not to missed. The day has also inspired me to book a weekend in Sydney, wander along to the northern shore with my cameras and try to capture some of the stunning beauty of Sydney Harbour.

Just have to make sure it doesn't rain next time!      

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Storm On The Water

The 8th June 2007, will live long in the memory of Novacastrians, because that was the day the Pasha Bulker became grounded on Nobbys Beach in one of the worst storms to hit the region . That storm, which claimed the lives of 10 people, over a 36 hour period inundated the area with over 400 mm of rain, with recorded wind gusts of over 120kp/h and caused the worst  flooding in the area since 1971.   

So we are getting pretty used to the odd bit of temperamental weather that can be thrown our way.

The past week, while nowhere near the scale of the 2007 storm, the stormy weather has provided the keen photographer some wonderful photographic landscapes to capture.

This is a view of Nobbys Beach just as a huge rainstorm was about to hit Newcastle. The intrepid surfers were still out on the waves and the  Surf Lifesavers were still out practising in the rough, choppy swell. I don't whether they are brave, or mad ... perhaps a bit of both!  

Even with the storm clouds brewing to the west, the coal ships aren't disrupted. Although the weather looked frightening, there was surprisingly little wind and as result no swell. During extreme weather Newcastle Harbour will usually only shut when the swell makes it difficult to navigate through the channel, which isn't often.

A series of nasty thunderstorms brewed up around 4pm and continued hitting Newcastle until 10pm. The storm photographed here was taken looking west across Queens Wharf towards the Islington/Carrington area and graphically shows how hard the rain fell for those few brief moments.  

Prior to the storm cells that moved across the city in the afternoon, for a brief period the clouds concentrated the sunlight and gave Newcastle such a wonderful warm glow. This picture is looking east, back across Queens Wharf, along the The Foreshore, to the iconic Observation Tower

Although I would never classify myself as a 'stormchaser', with these series of shots, taken with the Sanyo S1275 camera, I was able to stand at the edge of some powerful weather fronts and take some wonderful photos without putting myself or my equipment at risk. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Movieworld Adventure

No visit to Australia's Gold Coast would not be complete without a visit to one of the theme parks located just a short drive from most of Surfers Paradise's tourist accomodation.

As I mention is an earlier post, on this visit we concentrated on the one theme park, Movieworld.

Warner Bros Movieworld is a one of the best of the theme parks to visit, mainly because it has something for everyone, no matter what the age or the level of mobility, from toddlers, to thrillseekers  right through to pensioners. For the adventerous, rides include the Batwing Spaceshot, Batman Adventure, Scooby-Doo Spooky Coaster, Superman Escape (0 - 100 kph in 2 secs!), The Wild West Falls & Lethal Weapon (unfortunately not operating on this visit). 

For the kiddies (plus the less adventurous), is the Looney Tunes Fun Zone and the Shrek 4-D Adventure attractions.. 

Not only are there the rides, there is ample free entertainment throughout the day to keep the 'oldies' entertained, including the amazing Stunt Driver Show and the Grand Parade. Also if you have a lecherous old fool in tow, he'll love the Marilyn Munroe Show, I know I did!  

I took my small Sanyo S1275 for capturing those unique photographic moments around the Park and it performed every task asked of it. The bulky size of the Canon 400D and other DSLR's can be a real hindrance if you want to go on all the rides, so I was glad I made the decision to leave the 400D back at the unit for the day 

Movieworld is a wonderful way to spend a day on the Gold Coast, but be warned, it can also be a very tiring day out for the faint hearted! 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Finding gold on the Gold Coast

Looking for gold on the Gold Coast is not a real hard task, especially if you use the Golden Hour Calculator. The calculator which is freely available online at or as a downloadable iPhone application from iTunes, is a great resource in determining the best photographic times, especially sunrise and sunset from any worldwide location. The Golden Hour, or sometimes better known as the Magic Hour, is the first or last hour of daylight, where you can get out and take some wonderful photographs, as the light is arguably at its best.

Now whilst holidaying on the Gold Coast I thought I'd take advantage of the Golden Hour and see what gold I could find during the glorious sunrises and the wonderful sunsets that can be found in this part of Australia. So being based at North Burleigh, it gave me the opportunity to access some of the best coastal photographic locations on the Gold Coast, from beach, to cityscape, to ocean and to bushland settings, a true smorgasbord of backdrops to chose from..

So armed with both my camera's, the Sanyo S1275 and the Canon 400D I headed out to capture that glorious golden moment.

For the morning shoot I grabbed the Canon 400D and went up onto the rocky headland at North Burleigh to capture to the first rays of dawn creeping across the Surfers Paradise cityscape. This is a great place to photograph from because you have the advantage of sweeping views south to Coolangatta and north to along the crescent shape beaches north to Southport. Although not a classic spectacular sunrise, I was lucky enough to capture a morning with enough broken cloud to scatter the morning rays.

For the afternoon shots, I was lucky enough to be at Burleigh Heads and walking around the Burleigh Heads National Park armed with my go anywhere friend, the Sanyo S1275. Although the Sanyo has some restrictions, especially with the lens choice and zoom quality, it is still a handy bit of equipment. Afternoons on Burleigh Beach are special, there is always something happening on the beach, in the surf, or with people just making use of  the National Park and the walkways. I was lucky enough to be in the area just at the right time, with the late afternoon sun capturing the essence of a perfect day on the Gold Coast.

So if  you planning to holiday on Australia's premier holiday destination around Surfers Paradise, make sure you pack your camera, check out the Golden Hour website and you too will find gold on the Gold Coast.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Newcastle West (2302)

By the time Australia Post decided to vacate the Newcastle West Post Office, in 2003, that area of Hunter Street had fallen onto hard times with dilapidated & boarded up buildings dominating the streetscape. I remember clearing the Post Office drop boxes on a Sunday morning and finding the alcove had become shelter for the homeless, with the smell of urine and vomit overpowering. I don't think there was one Newcastle transport driver who shed a tear with its closure.

But that wasn't always the way
As Newcastle continued to expand westward in the mid 1800's, residents and business began to call for better postal and telegraph facilities be made available. This was mainly due to the distance from the west end of Newcastle to the 'old' Newcastle Post Office located on the corner of Hunter and Watt Street, which was already straining from increased patronage and was unable to deliver the service that was required by a fast growing community..
Following successful representations to the Postmaster-General a Post Office was finally established and began operating on the 6th September 1889 at 525 Hunter Street (located in a building opposite the later Hunter Street site). However, it wasn't long before the community outgrew this building and so the good citizens began agitating at every possible occasion for a more 'officious' building be made available. 

One of those occasions was at the opening of the Newcastle Technical College in 1896, which was attended by the Postmaster-General, Mr Joseph Cook (later to become our 6th Prime Minister) and where the case for a new Post Office was put forward by local Alderman, even citing figures that stated  that the Post Office had made over £600  ($86,000) profit in the preceding year! Mr Cook promised that a new Post Office would indeed be built as long as they could secure a vacant block from the Railways Department at no cost (the Railways were holding the only vacant land on Hunter Street at the time).

Finally a block was secured at 582 Hunter Street, next door to the Technical College and in 1898  the contract was awarded to Mssrs. Wooden & Frost for the construction of a Walter Liberty Vernon designed Post Office at a cost of £1435 ($1.1 million).The style that Walter Vernon settled on was the Queen Anne Federation style which featured strong colours, textures and ornaments applied fairly evenly over the whole building, with red brickwork with flush joints, terracotta tiled roofs and the extensive use of lead lights.

While Walter Vernon may have been happy with his design, the locals were horrified.

The Newcastle Herald fired a withering salvo at the new Post Office on the 24th February 1899 calling the building "an abortion" and looking little better than  "a pigeon house". However, the most damning condemnation was the assertion was that the building was " - just about sufficient to accommodate a fat pay Saturday mother with her children and parcels" ... ouch!

However the Post Office did eventually open in June 1899 and became part of the fabric of  the Newcastle West  community. The wonderful Queen Anne facade was replaced in the 1930's with a rather bland looking frontage and again in the 1980's Australia Post updated the look of this fast fading icon.

By the end of the century the prospects of Newcastle West were looking ominous as local business's and residents moved away from the area, ultimately forcing the closure of the Newcastle West Post Office after 114 years of dedicated service, with most of the postal business shifting to Dangar (Marketown) LPO, or in a nice twist of irony, back Newcastle PO. The building lay dormant for a number of years while its fate was debated, but eventually the building has become an attractive public art gallery the 'Front Room Gallery' part of the Newcastle Art School (for further information click on this link Front Room Gallery )

Newcastle West is again being revived as business's and residents move back to the area on the back of the Lee Wharf and Honeysuckle redevelopment ...  if only Australia Post had held firm!

I'd like to thank the staff at Newcastle City Library & The Newcastle Herald for the use of their time and resources in compiling this blog. 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Gold Coast Adventure

Have you ever had a holiday where, while the holiday was way too short, it also felt that you been able to totally relax and get away from the mundane? Well that is how I felt after spending 2 weeks of my annual leave in arguably Australia's best, and most recognisable tourist destination, Queensland's Gold Coast region.

What was even better, because I'm a of API (Australian Post-tel Institute), which provides employee benefits for Post and Telstra employees, I was able to take advantage of  their discounted rates for their holiday units located right across from the beach at North Burleigh (which is only 10 kilomtres south from Surfers Paradise).

While many people scoff at the idea of a Gold Coast holiday, I have come to love this region of Australia, not just for Surfers Paradise and Cavill Avenue, but for the whole range of activites that are available in one area.

So I armed myself with both my camera's, the Sanyo S1275 and the Canon 400D to make sure I didn't miss one moment of my stay in this stunning photographic location.

Although the lure of the beach is strong, a quick trip into the hinterland can provide the budding photographer a chance to capture some of the beauty of an extinct 20 million year old Mt Warning volcano. At places such as Springbrook, Tambourine and Binna Burra, the landscape can present you with spectacular views of  the Gold Coast from the eroded volcano rim. These views are coloured with the lush greenery that abounds in the tropical, rainforest environment and with so many walking tracks that criss cross the ridgelines, the views are ever changing. The original volcano was a huge monster, that was over 2 kilometres high, had a caldera of over 40 kilometres and spewed ash over a distance of more than 100 kilometres!

Also just as famous as the natural attractions are the man made ones, especially the theme parks, which included Seaworld, Dreamworld, Movieworld & Wet 'n' Wild. This time we only visited Movieworld and it was here that the versatility of the Sanyo S1275 becomes apparent with its compact size and ease of use made it easy to capture some of the images that abound in this Warner Bros. wonderland. Actually, the compact cameras are the way to go at the theme parks, I noticed that quite a few people were using DSLR's and they seemed cumbersome in the hectic, confined spaces of large mobile crowds. Just a tip, make sure you take a small plastic bag to protect your camera when riding those more aquatic type of rides.

Of course, the Gold Coast is internationally famed for its beaches and it is not hard to see why, stretching from Southport to Tweed Heads are some of Australia's best surf beaches (although Newcastle does rival it, lol!). As I mentioned earlier, we were staying right on the beach and so nearly every day it was over to the beach to soak up the sun, read a good book or go for a swim. Nearly every morning and afternoon, I was able to grab the 400D, walk around the beaches and to capture some of the beauty that just seemed to continually fill my view finder.

The best thing however, was being an API member I was  able to take advantage of the excellent accomodation deal, and also, the cheaper entry into the theme parks using my API membership card. To find out more about API go to and take advantage of the membership for only $4.50 per pay and then you may be able to spend a wonderful, relaxing holiday on Australia's beautiful Gold Coast 

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Picton (2571)

“Altogether the building is paltry looking and very far below what a rising town like Picton is entitled to and the residents have a right to, compared with towns of less importance – this is part of a letter that seven local JP’s wrote in support of the then Picton Postmaster (Mr F. Burgess) plea for a new Post Office in June 1889.

The Postmaster and the buildings landlord, Mr G.M. Burgess, had a difficult relationship, almost from day one in 1886, culminating in the Postmaster accusing Mr Burgess’s building as being responsible for the death of one of his children due the damp and cold conditions of the Post Office and Postmasters residence. This was exacerbated by the high rainfall during the first half of 1889 and the early onset of a harsh winter.

Despite the Postmasters heartfelt plea to his superiors (with the support of seven local JP’s and various complaints from members of the community), nothing was done until the 2nd February 1891, when the NSW Works Department announced that Mr Peter Graham was successful in his tender for the construction of the Picton Post and Telegraph Office.

Picton itself has a long and colourful postal history, much longer than the drama’s that unfolded in 1886 

Picton, was originally known as Cowpastures, then later called Stonequarry and was one of a number of towns in the early days of the colony that were built on privately owned land, in this case, on a grant originally given  to Major Henry Colden Antill. In 1827 Govenor Brisbane opened the Stonequarry Gaol in an effort to tame lawlessness due to the bushrangers that were operating in the southern districts and the town continued to grow around the security offered by the police presence. With that growth came the need for mail and newspapers (newspapers were the main source of information, so were very important to the outlying districts).  

Stonequarry then became a convenient place for mailmen from Campbelltown and Bong Bong (Mittagong) to meet, exchange mail and pick up the local mail from Mr James Blake, who was the first Postmaster (1827), although in an unofficial capacity. Instead of waiting in the weather for each to arrive it was decided to meet at the local court house and in 1836, the colonial government decided to appoint Mr James Pearson as the ‘official’ Postmaster (he was also the Clerk to the Bench of Magistrates). This convenient arrangement lasted for the next three Postmasters until Mr G. Commins (a non court officer) was appointed in 1846. The mail was a daily service from Sydney via Campbelltown, except on Friday’s and the cost of posting a letter was 7d ($3.50).

It should be noted that in 1841 the town adopted the name Picton to replace original name of Stonequarry and so on the 1st September 1841, the NSW colonial government officially named Picton Post Office
The Post Office then moved to various locations as each new Postmaster moved the office to his, or her business. When the telegraph arrived in Picton, in the early part of 1863, it was located at the railway station which arrived also at the same time (although the first train didn't arrive till July of that year), with Mr George King as telegraph operator on a princely sum of £104 p.a. ($112,000). The Post Office and Telegraph Office didn’t amalgamate until January 1882.

The call for a new purpose built Post Office started back in 1886, (illustrated by the problems with the building leased from Mr Burgess and the Postmaster, as mentioned earlier), but as there was no suitable land available, the project lay dormant until the government forcibly resumed a block of land from Mssrs. Fieldhouse in 1890 and tenders were called in 1891.

While the good citizens of Picton and I assume the Postmaster as well, were much aggrieved by the delay, it actually meant that instead of getting the standard George Barnet  'Victorian Italianate' style of country Post Office, they were the beneficiaries of a Walter Liberty Vernon 'Free Classical' early federation style building (Walter Vernon was appointed as NSW government architect in 1890, he also later designed the Newcastle PO). The original design, which did not include the clock tower was opened on 19th July 1892 and cost £2379 ($2 million). After the opening ceremonies were performed by the Hon. J. Kidd,  successful representations were made to him to have a clock tower installed. It should also be noted, Mr Kidd was not only the local member of Parliament for Camden, but he was also the NSW Post-Master General, (which does make you wonder!). Mr M.B. Smith was the successful tenderer for the construction and for an additional £135 ($99,500), Picton’s Post Office had a wonderful four faced clock tower six months later.

This wonderful building served the Picton community until Australia Post vacated in 1994 and then this Walter Liberty Vernon designed building disappeared from their property portfolio. However, the building was not lost to the community as Wollondilly Council purchased the property and cleverly turned it into the Wollondilly Visitor Information Centre, which is a nice touch for this proud community.

As for postal services in Picton these days, well they became a Licensed Post Office (LPO) and eventually moved into a ubiquitous shop in Argyle Street, next door to a pie shop and a Chinese restaurant.

Maybe, Walter Vernon should have incorporated a Chinese restaurant into his original design .....   

I'd like to thank the invaluable contribution to this blog by the Picton and District Historical and Family History Society, and also the Wollondilly Visitor Information Centre