"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 http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/post-office-gives-its-old-home-new-lease-of-life-20121012-27i80.html