Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Lost Post Offices of Australia - Morpeth (2321)

"Passing by the race-course last Sunday evening we were sorry to see a number of young men engaged playing at cricket, in the vicinity of the church; and, knowing how strongly a due observance of the Sabbath, and public feeling in general, was against such a mode of spending the Sabbath ....."  - .Letters to the Editor, Maitland Mercury, Saturday 12th April 1845

circa 1940's
One of the pleasures of researching our postal history is that it gives you an opportunity to go back and look at how the local newspapers recorded the issues of the day. Although the above letter didn't deal with postal issues, it does give us a glimpse into Morpeth life during the first half of the 19th century. 

Morpeth itself was an important inland transport hub in the early settlement of New South Wales with it's access to the Hunter River system made it vital link in sending fresh produce to Sydney. Although the area was known since 1797 when Lt Shortland navigated the river, it wasn't until the convict gangs (under military rule) and then the cedar getters plying the river that really opened up the opportunities for further development. In 1821 Lt. Edward Close chose to take up his land grant in the area known as Green Hills and began farming on the rich alluvial river flats. The high ground near the family home became known as Morpeth and due to the erection of wharves at Morpeth to send produce back to Sydney a town quickly established itself. So quickly did the town grow that agitation for postal facilities began as early as 1836, as inhabitants were very much inconvenienced to have to pick their mail up from either Hinton or Maitland. Then in August 1838, as reported in the Sydney Gazette, came the following good news -

"MORPETH - Mr Raymond, the (NSW) Postmaster (- General), has recommended to the Government a Post Office should be established at the thriving village of Morpeth at the head of the navigation of Hunter's  [sic] River"

original letter receivers are still in place 
The first Postmaster, according to the Official History of NSW Post Offices, was Mr J.Chastel, a storekeeper who operated the post office from his premises close to the current Morpeth bridge. The big problem for most of the early Morpeth Postmasters was usually the rate of of pay/commission, which was low and was paid six months in arrears, which meant that meeting the day to day costs were a constant struggle, according to Mr A Larrymore (Postmaster in 1842). Several residents held the position until1860 when it appears that the Post Office finally achieved official status with Mr John Broker appointed the first 'official' letter carrier on the princely sum of  £120 ($13,000) per annum (plus £0/2/0 ($11.00) per day for his horse). 

The Post Office and Telegraph Offices  found themselves combined in the Court House in 1862, however run separately, as was the norm in those early days. It appears that the Post Office and Telegraph Office didn't amalgamate until the appointment of Mr D.Bell in January 1870, when both offices were located in the 'new' Court House ( built in 1866). This arrangement lasted a year and the offices were once again split with the Post Office moving to a new site in Swan Street with Miss Anne Larrymore in charge.

circa 1907
In 1872 the farce continued when Mr Charles Wakely became both the Telegraph Master and the Postmaster, but operating from different sites. As the town continued to grow so did the needs for better postal facilities and in 1878 the Morpeth Municipal Council applied for a more substantial Post Office building to meets the needs of a growing community. The NSW government obliged and commissioned James Barnet to design a Post Office to reflect the status of Morpeth. Once again Barnet designed the Post Office in his usual Italianate style, with corrugated iron gable roofs, arched windows, stucco details, string courses, mouldings to arches, key stones and pediments. However there was no clock tower included in the design and when quizzed by this lack of respect to the town of Morpeth the Postmaster-General replied that if the council want a clock they will have to pay for it! As would be the case today, the council said thanks, but no thanks! 

Mr Robert James of West Maitland was awarded the contract for the construction with the corner stone laid on the 17th  March 1880 and the building was officially opened on the 27th November 1881. The final cost for the building was £1882 ($1.5 million), but excluded the price of the original land purchase for £200 ($170,000) from Mrs Dickson.

As part of the Australia Post rationalisation and post office restructuring during the 1990's  Morpeth Post Office once again lost its 'official' status, however it continued serve the Morpeth community but now as a Licensed Post Office (LPO). 

The Morpeth Post Office has ridden on the fortunes of the town, from the heady days when the town was a important river town and a vital transport link in the early development of the colony of NSW, through to today where the town now is a major tourist destination trading on its wonderfully restored 19th century architecture. However, after 129 years of service to the Morpeth community, the Post Office has moved out from its stately abode on Swan Street, as the owner has now listed this iconic James Barnet designed building for sale with an asking price of $889,000. The Morpeth LPO is now located in a modern shop just off the main street and while losing its claim to being the longest continuous trading Post Office from the same building, they are still providing postal services to the Morpeth community, as has been the case for over 170 years!

As for playing cricket of the Sabbath, I think that game in 1845 could have signalled the beginning of the end for strict religious observance on Sundays .... who knows? 

I'd like to thank Maitland City Library, Newcastle City Library & the online resources of the National Library of Australia for their assistance in the research of this blog

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When the bikers rule the town

Do you remember the scene in the 1970 movie 'Black Bikers From Hell' when the bikers take over the town and cause mayhem? You know the movie, it has that famous tageline "God forgives. The Black Angels don't!" Ok then, what about that immortal line "This time I'm gonna kill ya, Frenchie. You filthy, no good, egg-sucking, finger-licking, snot-picking scuzzy faced rat!"  .... still not ringing any bells?

Ok then, lets start over again, remember the 1954 movie, starring Marlon Brando,  The Wild One, where bikers take over the town and has the best biker dialogue ever on the silver screen  "What are you rebelling against?" "What have you got?" Priceless!

So with all those infamous scenes in mind I headed down to Newcastle, arming myself with my Sanyo S1275 for self defence to watch the 33rd annual Newcastle Bikers for Kids Toy Run. This is a charity event held to help with donations of toys, food and cash, through the Salvation Army, to assist those less fortunate in our Hunter Valley community.

This year proved to be another stunning success with thousands of bikes (some estimates were up to 4,000!) doing the pilgrimage from Sandgate Markets through to the Newcastle Foreshore. The streets of Newcastle were just a mass of colour, movement and noise, as the bikes came through bringing cheer to the assembled crowds. I even seen one thing that I thought I would never see, one of the visiting coal ships (Sincere Pisces) almost slowed to a halt to observe this great event and that in itself is a very rare event indeed ! While events of this type are not exclusive to Newcastle, it is a continuation of the many free community fun days that are bought into Newcastle to provide the city a weekend spectacle and more importantly, a chance to raise funds/awareness to those that are less fortunate in our community.

Part of the crowd along the Foreshore
If you are thinking of heading into town to capture some of the excitement and colour of one of these events, my advice is to go the early, know the route, visit a couple of vantage points and stake your claim, because the once the crowd moves in it is hard to jostle for a good photographic position. Also, plan a fallback position as well, just to get a different angle of the parade as it passes, even if it means climbing on a seat, or even bringing along a step ladder, anything that will help give you a different perspective and, most of all be patient.  

Once again Newcastle was the place to be on a Sunday to take in all the city has to offer and if you do  come to visit one of these wonderful events always remember to pack your camera (with fully charged batteries), perhaps even bring a picnic lunch, just  to make a day of it.

thanks for the effort guys!
"A picnic? Man, you are too square. I'm... I... I'll have to straighten you out. Now, listen, you don't go any one special place. That's cornball style. You just go.... " - Johnny Strabler 'The Wild One ' (1954)

- as long as it's Newcastle Johnny, as long as it's Newcastle! 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Balmy Nights & Red Lanterns

Over the past few years Newcastles Hunter Street Mall has fallen on hard times as major retailers left the CBD to go seek their fortunes in the glitzy suburban mega malls that are become part of the urban landscape. As each retailer departed the CBD it left another vacant shop along what was once reputed to have been one of the longest main streets in the southern hemisphere. This was especially evident in the Hunter Mall area, where shop fronts had all the ambience of a gapped tooth smile and also being closed off to traffic, also made it look lifeless.

While some in the community stood around pointing fingers and looking for culprits to lay blame on, the Newcastle City Council (NCC) and some of the more civic minded citizens buckled down to come up with some workable solutions. One of the most controversial decisions made by the NCC was to spend $330,000 to reopen the Hunter Mall to vehicular traffic, which had been closed since 1981. Another step was the establishment of the Renew Newcastle group to reopen vacated shops by finding artists, cultural projects and community groups to use and maintain these buildings until they become commercially viable or were redeveloped. The third part of the revitalisation process was involving Newcastle Live Sites (a partnership between NCC, Hunter Development Corp. & Arts NSW) in bringing live entertainment into the Mall during the Xmas build up. 

free puppet show for the kids
As result for the past two years the Hunter Mall and Newcastle itself is being transformed into a vibrant arts orientated centre.with one of the main focal events being the Red Lantern Markets which are generally held late November through till mid December. While there are a lot of food, art and craft orientated speciality stalls to choose from, (over 70 this year alone!) some of the more savvy boutique shops in the Mall are also open to take advantage of the passing trade, making it a unique shopping experience. Another advantage is that you can usually talk to the person that made the item and find out some background to that special gift, something you can't do at K-Mart or Toys 'R' Us!

The Red Lantern Markets are also an urban photographers dream with so much colour, people and movement around, sometimes it hard to know when to frame a shot, but it is a vast landscape to choose from!

There are very few places on earth where you can drive down to the city (or catch a train, ferry or utilise the excellent bus service) have lunch at a 5 star restaurant (Honeysuckle or Darby St), walk to beach to have an afternoon swim (Newcastle, Nobbys or Newcastle Baths), then do your all christmas shopping in a relaxed market style atmosphere and then if the mood takes you, go and watch a latest release movie at the King Street theatre, all this within an easy half hour walk of the Newcastle CBD. 

No wonder Lonely  Planet Guide recently listed Newcastle in its top 10 of places to visit in 2011!     

The last Red Lantern Market for 2010 will be held on Saturday 11th December 4pm - 10pm  ... don't miss it!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Mighty Fine Vintage

Robyn Drayton Wines 
I was lucky enough to spend another week in the Hunter Valley wineries picking truckloads of our beautiful produce for delivery just in time for the festive season.and summer holidays. Of course every time I visit the wineries I always pack my Sanyo S1275 camera, my camera of choice when on the road.

Lindemans Wines
Now I have been doing this work on and off now, depending on the rosters, for a number years and I have seen the vineyards displaying every aspect of viticulture through every type of season. From the autumn hues to the starkness of winter vines, to the new growth in spring and to the picking of the harvest in late summer. I have also witnessed the vagaries of the Australian weather, from dams that have run dry in drought and where the only moisture comes from the sweat of the farmers brow,  through to total inundation of the land, where at times the ground becomes so soaked that the ground turns to a glutinous clay bog, where fruit becomes bloated and ruined on the vine due to the inability to harvest .

Out all those visits, over all those years, I have never seen the wineries of the Hunter Valley looking so lush and green. Late spring rains have turned bare winter vines into row upon row verdant fields of what could be another stunning vintage for the Hunter Valley region.

With the fruit now set on the vines, every Hunter Valley vintner is eyeing off the long range weather forecasts to assess when will be the best time to harvest the vintage, which traditionally in the Hunter Valley  is around February/March. However, every year brings new challenges, because the grapes have to have the perfect balance between sugars and acids, it is a combination of local knowledge, science, skill and a lot of luck. Miss the harvest by a day or two and the crop for the year is ruined. This why the vintners are worried, the long range forecast is for a wet summer and for an extremely wet February, right in the middle of harvest season. If it is too wet the wineries can't use the mechanical harvesters and have to rely on skilled teams of fruit pickers to manually bring in the bulk of the harvest which increases the cost of production and reduces wineries margins. A testing time ahead for these skilled artisans of the land.

However, for the casual visitor, now is a great time to visit the wineries, to taste the special wines from the Hunter Valley, eat some of the best food from some of our top restaurants and soak up the wonderful vista of green that is laid out before you at every winery (remembering to pack your camera!). Life doesn't get much better than this!

The only people that will have a worried look on their faces will be the vintners as they ponder, the age old dilemma that faces every farmer, no matter what the crop .... when to harvest. 

Ivanhoe Estate