Wednesday, September 29, 2010

When The Torries Come To Town

The was time in the motoring life of Australia that the small to mid size market was dominated by Holden Torana. The Torana's were based on existing Vauxhall/Opel designs and were extensively modified from their British/German heritage (especially in the engine department) to suit the harsher Australian driving conditions. Not only were they successful in the showroom, but they virtually dominated the Production/Touring Car races throughout the 70's, making drivers like Peter Brock, Colin Bond, Alan Grice and Bob Morris virtually household names by their exploits on the Australian racetracks.
HB 4 cylinder with automatic transmission

The first Torana, the HB series were introduced in May 1967 and were basically a facelifted Vauxhall Viva, with 4 speed manual transmissions and underpowered 1.2 litre engines. From these humble beginnings grew the mightiest Torana of the all  .... the A9X.

The A9X, of which only 405 were ever made, were powered by the fearsome 5.0 litre V8 (L34 spec.), with an unbreakable 'T-10' 4speed gearbox, 4 wheel disc brakes and was completed with a  rear facing air induction bonnet scoop, this Torana  looked like it meant business! When in the hands of the late Peter Brock, the A9X Torana dominated the touring car seasons of the late 70's, winning the 1979 Australian Touring Car Championship series and the 1978 and '79 Bathurst 1000 races, making it quite the formidable touring car of its time.

Colin Bonds LC XU1
A change of heart at Holden saw the Torana model gradually phased back and when the UC Torana was released in March 1978, the V8 option was dropped. In 1979 the hatchback version ceased production and the brand struggled on until 1980, now only in 4 cyl form, until Holden, mercifully axed the Torana brand from the Australian motoring landscape.  (Holden however continued racing with the newly launched V8 Commodore in 1980, a tradition that continues today)  

Now we in Newcastle have a special fondness for the Torana and each year we hold a car show on The Foreshore to showcase all that is wonderful with these iconic cars, from the very mild, to the radically wild. I also have my own Torana connection, owning three little beauties, a 4cylinder, 2 door HB, a 4cylinder, 2 door LC and my favourite a 6cylinder, 4 door LC model.

Peter Brocks A9X  
This year I attended Toranafest, making sure I was armed with my little friend the Sanyo 1275s and spent over an hour just wandering around the exhibits, admiring the work that the Torana enthusiasts put into making sure their cars are perfect for the event.  And reliving my youthful past!

So if your ever in Newcastle in September, make sure you check out the Newcastle Toranafest and take a step back in time when the mighty Holden Torana was the undisputed King of the Mountain.    


Monday, September 20, 2010

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Leichhardt (2040)

"A deputation, consisting of the Mayor (Mr. Sydney Smith, M.L.A.) and aldermen of Leichhardt, accompanied by Mr.J. Garrard and Mr. F. Smith, M.L.A's [sic], waited upon the Postmaster-General yesterday and complained of the existing arrangements in the Leichhardt Post-Office, in respect of the charge being under the control of a postmistress. It .was urged that the business transacted justified the appointment of a postmaster and complaints were made in respect of tho alleged incivility of the postmistress.Specific charges were made against her, into which an inquiry was demanded." - Sydney Morning Herald 22/12/1888

It was not an uncommon event in the early days of the Post Office for the Postmater-General to receive this type of deputation from disgruntled local businessmen, who demanded that their postal business be handled by 'man' and not by a woman. However in this case and with all other such type of cases, the charges were dismissed, with Mrs Cross retaining her position as Leichhardt Postmistress.

Leichardt itself started out as Piperston Estate and following the subdividing of this estate by Walter Beames in1849 he changed the name to Leichhardt Town after his good friend Ludwig Leichhardt who famously disappeared while exploring northern Australia in 1848.

As Leichardt continued to grow so did the need for better postal services and so in 1881 Leichhardt Council approached the Postal Department for the provision of a Post Office to service 3,500 residents. The department agreed to their requests, however on the advice of the postal inspector, they denied Leichhardt a Telegraph Office, due to the existing office at Petersham Railway Station.   

So it was on the 20th July 1881, local grocer Mr George Purdie became Leichhardt's first Postmaster, operating the Post Office from his shop on Balmain Road. In May 1882 the Post Office was also operating as a Money Order Office and also as a Government Savings Bank. By October of 1882 the Postmaster-General decided to upgrade Leichhardt Post Office to 'official' status and incorporate the Telegraph Office as well, so new premises were sought. 

On the 3rd January 1883 Leichardt finally had an official Post & Telegraph Office located at 9 Short Street, with Mrs Ellen Cross appointed as Postmistress and Telegraph Operator. Mrs Cross also had two letter carriers appointed as well to cope with the expanded business.

As the community continued to grow the Post Office became more cramped, so in 1885 the Postal Department began to look for larger premises to rent, however they were unsuccessful. It  was eventually decided to build a new purpose built  Post Office on a block of land on the Cnr Norton and Wetherill Streets purchased in December 1886. Tenders were called for the erection of a James Barnet Victorian Italianate designed Post Office (replete with an impressive clock tower) with Messrs. Innes and Winchester successful with their bid of £2465 ($2.2 million). They completed the construction in 1888 and now Leichhardt had a double reason to celebrate, a new Post Office and Australia's centenary of settlement. 

For some inexplicable reason the clock was never installed in the Post Office and as most clocks were installed by public subscription, Leichhardt council decided in 1897 to install clock in the Town Hall  instead, leaving the Post Office with a very impressive tower!

In 2000, Australia Post decided that it's future lay in the new Norton Street Plaza, leaving this iconic James Barnet designed building to take up residence amongst the soulless glass and chrome of a modern retail establishment.
While the Post Office on the Crn of Norton and Wetherill St has moved on, Australia Post continues its commitment to providing job opportunities and supporting women in the workforce, 127 years since Mrs Ellen Cross. Now that is something to be proud of!

I would like to thank the invaluable assistance given to me by Amie Zar (Community Information and Local History Leichhardt library)

UPDATE - Australia Post has now decided to move back to it's former home in Norton St

Thursday, September 16, 2010

When memories are enough

In 1993 after 10 years of serving with the Australian Army, I decided to elect discharge and seek my fame and fortune in the civilian world. However, seven of those years were spent in Sydney and six of them we were living in Leichhardt, a suburb of Sydney's inner west, so it is understandable that the family shares quite a bond with that cosmopolitan part of Sydney.

During our time there our kids went from Primary School to High School, our son played his junior rugby league on some of rugby leagues most hallowed turf (Leichhardt & Birchgrove Ovals), our daughter swam competitively at Leichhardt Pool, the local rugby league team the Balmain Tigers contested consecutive Grand Finals (1988 -89, losing both) and I think it was the first time that our family felt part of a community, so our bonds with the area remain strong.

So on a recent trip to Sydney, Jude and I went back to Tiger Town to see how the place has fared since we left in the summer of 1993.

This is our place at Unit 6/64 Charles Street. The palms I planted in our small courtyard seemed to have grown quite a fair bit since we left! Charles Street was a great place to live, with Leichhardt Oval only a 15 minute walk away & some of Sydney's best restaurants even closer!

 I was quite surprised to see that our local corner shop is still operating and is still owned by Charlie after all these years. In a fast paced world where the landscape is dominated supermarkets and 7/11's, there is still a place for local business's to grow and thrive. Charlie also saved me the newspaper headline leader about Canberra's amazing win in the 1989 Grand Final.

Blackmore Oval was the home of the mighty Leichhardt Wanderers. Mick later left the Wanderers and went to play with the Balmain Police Boys. Both clubs are steeped in rugby league history and both played on some of Sydney's most iconic rugby league grounds. 

I don't think there is anything better than an Il Cugino pizza. Il Cugino's are still located on Norton Street and are still serving the best pizza's in Sydney. A couple of times each month during our time in Leichhardt we made sure we visited this family owned pizzeria to take home a family treat    

Kegworth Public School was the second school we enrolled the kids at, they first went to Leichhardt PS, but we had to change schools due to 'difficulties' with the Headmistress. The kids then settled in well at Kegworth with Sheryl becoming School Captain and Mick becoming a Prefect, a pretty impressive achievement! My Aunties also attended Kegworth PS in the late 1930's, so we really had a strong family connection with the school!

 26 Marlborough St Leichhardt was home to 1 Amenities Unit, where I served two postings, 1987 - 89 and also 1991 - 93. The building itself was originally a fire station and then became an army drill hall around the time of  WWI. It was eventually sold off by the Department of Defence in 1994 for I believe around $60,000!. Although the street frontage hasn't changed at all, the building has been extensively renovated out the back and is now a private residence. I still have some very happy memories from that little obscure army unit!

It is sometimes pleasant to go back to an area that holds so many happy memories for us as a family, to walk around the old landmarks and reminisce about the happy times we had. Whilst it was fun, and I still do so love Leichhardt, I'm more than happy with my life choices. Although it was hard for the kids to break their bonds with the area, I'm glad we did, initially moving to the Central Coast and now to our home at Newcastle. 

Leichhardt is now a memory, not a destination. 

However, seeing what property is fetching in Leichhardt these days and what I could have bought it for in 1986 ... I too could be driving a Ferrari!