Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Waratah (2298)

What an honour it must have been for 17 year old John Banfield to be appointed the Postmaster at the Waratah Post Office when the Post Office achieved its official status on the 23rd June 1877. Initially he was paid a salary of £52 per annum ($46,000), but what he wasn't so pleased about  was that the Postmaster-Generals Department was charging him £1 per week for board and lodgings!

Reluctantly, the Postmaster-General did eventually agree to double his wages after young John made representations to him about how the low wage was making it hard to make ends meet.

Waratah was another one of our Hunter towns that was basically founded on the coal boom of the 1800's (the town did exist as early as the 1820's with small scale mining and brickmaking being the main employment) . The colliery at Waratah (established 1862) was made more attractive when the railway from Newcastle arrived in March 1858 making it easier to use that infrastructure to transport the black gold to Newcastle wharves and also to their own coal loaders located at Port Waratah.   

As was the fashion of that period the Postmaster-General on the decided to place a Post Office at Waratah Station with station master, Mr Pat Dwyer, appointed the first Postmaster on the 1st February 1860. For his extra postal duties Mr Dwyer was paid £12 per annum ($13,000), plus commission on stamps sold, not a bad little earner even today!

Although the mine wasn't a real success in tonnage, Waratah began to thrive as a residential suburb and when Mr Thomas Grove opened up the new Hanbury Estate, both area's, Hanbury and Waratah started to boom as people took advantage of property close to Newcastle with easy access to the railway. As the town grew so did the Post Office, with the addition of money order facilities (1868) and a Government Savings Bank facility (1871).

In 1877 after the then station master (and Postmaster) Mr Mattingley was transferred, the Postmaster-General decide to amalgamate the Telegraph and Post Offices to save costs. The telegraph which arrived in 1863, initially was separate from the Post Office and so in 1877 the Post Office was moved into the Telegraph Office located in Cross Street (now named Tighe Street), with young John Banfield, the former Telegraph Operator, now appointed as Postmaster. The building was cramped and the accommodation deemed unsuitable, when the next Postmaster, a family man, Mr William Harris became the next Postmaster in November 1878 (this was a position he held for the next 35 years!). New rented premises were then obtained in High Street in January 1879 as an interim measure whilst a brand new purpose built building was constructed.

The site selected was on the Cnr of Turton Road and Station Street and Government Architect James Barnet designed the single storey building of a simple design with cement rendered walls and hipped corrugated iron roof (which dismayed the local council), at a cost of £1050 . The contract was awarded to W.H. Galbraith and on the 1st March 1881, Waratah welcomed it own, purpose built, Post Office (the mail room addition occurred sometime in 1901)    

Waratah Post Office, after 115 years of service eventually became part of Australia Posts property rationalisation and in 1996 this wonderful 19th century building was sold off with the Post Office transferring operations to the Waratah Village Shopping Centre and becoming just another retail shop, albeit a very busy one,  in another bland shopping centre.

The bond between the Post Office and they community they serve becomes severed with every one of these asset disposals, with the memory of past deeds and tribulations lost, while we pursue the lure of the easy dollar. It may surprise some to learn that Waratah Post Office turned 150 years old this year, but on Monday the 1st February 2010, this momentous fact passed unnoticed by everyone and so it became just being another day in a suburban shopping centre.

Congratulations to Waratah Post Office on celebrating their Sesquicentennial this year.

Many thanks to the Newcastle Library, the Ralph Snowball Collection & the Newcastle Family History & Historical Society 

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