Unlocking the past: Cessnock Post Office was the information centre of the community

WORKING HARD: Cessnock postmen in the mail sorting room at Cessnock Post Office. Undated. Picture: Supplied
WORKING HARD: Cessnock postmen in the mail sorting room at Cessnock Post Office. Undated. Picture: Supplied

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time not so long ago that the humble post office was the information centre of every local community. 

When there was no internet, no television, no radio, no telegraph or telephones of any kind, the post office was a vital information hub. Here letters, newspapers, parcels and postcards – both official and personal – arrived, all carrying vital news of the outside world. 

For rural and regional communities post offices were perhaps even more important than those in major cities.

In metropolitan centres other sources of information were easily available, such as those found in and at retail, commercial and transport hubs.

This was not the case in regional Australia, where distances between neighbours could be vast, so the post office became central to those living in rural towns and villages.

Australia’s first postmen (they were always men) were appointed in 1828 and were known as ‘letter carriers’, a title aptly describing their role.

These mailmen were themselves an important source of informal news about ‘who was doing what’ and as they moved along their postal route they also passed stories and gossip from property to property along with the mail. 

The first post office in the Cessnock Local Government Area was at Wollombi, where the Postmaster, John McDougall, opened his doors on 1 January 1839. Adjoining areas followed with post offices opening in Mount Vincent in 1859, Ellalong in 1862 and Cessnock in 1864. 

The late historian Jack Delaney spent many years researching the post offices of the Cessnock Local Government Area. In that time he amassed an extraordinary amount of research, which has now been edited and is a book of over 1,000 pages called ‘Our letters, the mail goes through’. 

Just as Jack was focused on making his research as widely available as possible, so does the Local Studies collection at Cessnock Library.

For that reason we have a digitised copy of his book ready as a free download from the Library catalogue, making it available for anyone to access at any time.

The book is a wonderful tribute to Jack’s original research and his passion for Cessnock’s history and we are thrilled to be able to share it with the whole community. 

Kimberly O’Sullivan is the Local Studies Librarian at Cessnock City Library