The Wingecarribee district’s first postal service opened at Bong Bong in 1829.
For settlers in what was then remote hinterland, the post was a vital link with civilization. Initially the mail between Stonequarry (Picton) and Bong Bong was carried by mounted police. The district’s postal service was relocated to Berrima in 1838 by which time mail was transported by cart or coach along the Great Southern Road.
Postal services in NSW became more regular during the 1850s gold rush period, when substantial colonial investment in postal infrastructure commenced.
In addition to the post office at Berrima, another was established in 1862 at the Fitzroy Inn to serve the growing village of Nattai (now Mittagong) located at the district’s northern gateway. Stage coaches carried the mail but, due to poor road conditions, it often took up to three days for mail to arrive from or reach Sydney.
The opening in 1867 of the Great Southern Railway through the district improved local mail services. A close working arrangement developed between the Government’s railway and postal departments. From 1865 the TPO (travelling post office) operated on trains, and postal employees would drop bags of mail at stations.
The newly invented electric telegraph and telephone were adopted by the railways and networks built as part of the system. These were crucial for safety, providing communications between staffed stations.
The postal service was under the control of a cabinet minister, known as the Postmaster-General, an indication of its importance in colonial social and economic life. Government architects built imposing post offices in Sydney and provincial towns.
During the 1860s post offices rapidly acquired ancillary services, most notably the burgeoning telegraph and banking facilities. All colonies had some sort of government savings bank; in some cases owned by the post office, and others using post offices as agencies. All these services meant that post offices, like railway stations, were focal centres of social interaction in country towns.
It took a while in our locality for full post and telegraph services to be operational at the newly established railway townships of Mittagong, Bowral, Moss Vale and Bundanoon. By the 1870s these towns were expanding with new residents, businesses and numerous boarding houses catering for visitors.
It was not until 1887, however, that the district’s first official Post & Telegraph office was opened. This was at Bowral, where a substantial two-storey brick premises was built on Bong Bong St near the station. Prior to that the Postmaster J D Sheriff, who had been appointed in 1882, operated at the store of J G Morris where locals complained that telegrams had to be written on an “open, comfortless verandah”.
At Mittagong, for some years after 1867, the town’s post office was located at the railway station with the stationmaster in charge. This was common at the time for localities where mail volume did not warrant an official building. By 1891, however, Mittagong made the grade and a stylish brick, two-storey Post & Telegraph Office was built in Station St.
At Moss Vale, an official post office opened in December 1867 at the store of D Levy but was relocated in 1871 to the railway station where it remained for 20 years. In 1891 a two-storey Post & Telegraph Office was built near the station. Many rank this as the most stylish, elegant post office built locally. The restored building is now a café/bar.
Thus by the 1890s the district’s three main towns had regular postal services. Local residents south of Moss Vale along the Southern Railway were not so fortunate.
A platform stop had opened in 1868 at Jordan’s Crossing to serve the fledgling village which grew around the rail. By the early 1870s this locality was flourishing with coal mines, sandstone quarries and sawmills, and was attracting interest as a healthy and picturesque holiday resort. It would be renamed Bundanoon in 1881.
Despite their need for rapid communication services, Bundanoon townspeople had to make do with unofficial postal and telegraph services until 1899. For nearly 30 years residents agitated for better services. Their story will continue in the next article.
- Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton. Part 1 of a four-part series.