UNLOCKING THE PAST: Meet Matilda Lumby, the long-serving postmistress of Sweetmans Creek

HARD WORKER: Pictured aged 63, Matilda Lumby was the long-serving postmistress at Sweetmans Creek. Picture: Paramount Studio

HARD WORKER: Pictured aged 63, Matilda Lumby was the long-serving postmistress at Sweetmans Creek. Picture: Paramount Studio

Tiny post offices are important social centres in rural and remote communities, where a trip to the post office takes on a greater significance than just collecting letters and parcels.

It's the chance to meet up with far-flung neighbours, hear local news and gossip and talk over public events and the state of the world with the postmaster or postmistress.

It must have been just like that at Sweetmans Creek over a century ago. In 1905 a 'postal receiving office' first opened on the front veranda of Walter and Matilda Lumby's home.

It was a tiny eight-by-eight-foot space with Matilda working as a postal officer on a salary of £5 per year. She must have done a good job in her new role, a year later the tiny postal agency became an official Post Office and Matilda's salary doubled to £10.

The house was close to Sweetmans Creek, which bore Matilda's maiden name, on the left-hand side of Wollombi Road as travellers journeyed into the town. It was one of the original houses in the area, built c. 1870.

LOCATION: The bridge over Sweetmans Creek on Wollombi Road today.

LOCATION: The bridge over Sweetmans Creek on Wollombi Road today.

In 1925 Walter and Matilda built a new home for themselves and their growing family. This new house, not far from the previous one, had a special room added onto the back veranda for the post office, which now had its own side door entrance and a dedicated small flight of wooden steps for its customers.

That same year technology came to the small settlement, with a telephone service connected, via the post office, for the first time. There were only two locals with phones, but its existence meant that telegrams could now be received and sent.

But the most amazing thing about the little post office was its postmistress. She not only ran the postal business, but reared a family of eleven children, a feat which is almost unbelievable.

Matilda was a local, born in Millfield in August 1878 and marrying Walter Lumby, who lived on an adjoining property, when she was 18 years old.

Matilda Lumby was not only Sweetman Creek's first postmistress, but remained in the role for almost 58 years right up until her death in December 1962. As such she is an important figure in Australian postal history, particularly in the Hunter Valley.

Kimberly O'Sullivan is the Local Studies Librarian at Cessnock City Library. Email kimberly.osullivan@cessnock.nsw.gov.au

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