History of postal services in the Nambucca Valley

Nambucca Heads first Post Office
Nambucca Heads first Post Office

IN EARLY European settlement the demand for postal services were high. People longed for communication with families left behind and the new settlers also needed the mail for land selection, employment and business opportunities.

A young man working on the Macleay in the 1840s sums up the lack of communication to his mother in England as he had not been able to write to his cousin on the Bellinger.

"Mother", he wrote, "We can't post letters here, there is no post office and there is miles of jungle between him and me. By hearsay from travellers, things are going alright with him and his family."

The country areas and the North Coast were not serviced until Grafton was opened in 1840, Ballina in 1856, Lismore 1859, East Kempsey 1843 and West Kempsey in 1859.

The mail used to arrive by ship or by horse coach and residents were employed as mail riders to complete delivery.

Alice Whaites, the Pilot's wife at Nambucca, was the non-official Post Mistress before the opening of post offices at Nambucca Central (later Macksville) in 1868, Bowra in 1870 and Nambucca Heads in 1881.

The position of Post Master was hotly contested as it provided an income for struggling selectors.

At Macksville, William Wright and George Henderson divided the community in a battle to win the position in 1868. The office at Bowra was fought over by William Sullivan and Joseph Conen. Only at Nambucca Heads was there no contest as Alice Whaites, wife of Pilot Whaites, had long been the acting Post Mistress.

When William Sullivan was appointed at Bowra his salary was 12 pounds per year with a commission of 10 per cent on the value of postage stamps sold. He was required to lodge a bond of 200 pounds to underwrite his honesty.

While the post offices were headed by men they often gave early employment opportunities to their wives who generally had better literacy skills.

Illuminated Address at Nambucca Headland Museum

Illuminated Address at Nambucca Headland Museum

Nambucca Central Post Office opened on August 15, 1868. The Post Master William Wright had been a cedar dealer and sugar cane grower in the 1840s. His varied enterprises may have had little long term success as he was insolvent on his death in 1872.

The first post office in Nambucca Heads was a lean-to addition built on to the house where the Post Master was to live in Bank St. Alfred John Martin was the Post Master in 1888 who brought with him experience as a leading Telegraphist at the Sydney GPO. He wired up a room ready to receive and send messages.

With his wife Mary Ann, they had four children and made their mark on the community through forming a choir and a love of entertaining.

There was a concert held in 1889 reported in the North Coast Times, saying: "Mrs Martin sang, "It was a Dream" very sweetly and in a manner betokened considerable vocal talent. The duet, "Oh Tell Me Gentle Stranger", in which she, accompanied by her husband, proved that in Mr and Mrs Martin the Nambucca district has acquired no mean accession to its musical skill."

Martin was the musical director of the Nambucca District Harmonic Society for many years and was presented with an engraved baton in appreciation of his efforts.

AJ Martin's well travelled baton

AJ Martin's well travelled baton

The baton's remarkable story is that it was stolen around 1993, then returned anonymously by mail in 2002 saying it had been purchased from an antique shop in the Southern Tablelands. The package was postmarked 'Darwin', so the baton has been well travelled.

It now has a permanent resting place in a display box at the Headland Museum, which is securely attached to the wall.

When Martin left Nambucca Heads in 1909 he was presented with an illuminated address. This is a colourful framed tribute commonly used to mark the public service of an individual by a community.

The address is signed by many of Nambucca's early pioneers and features two early landscape photos.

Martin and his wife transferred to other regional post offices however they demonstrated their attachment to the Nambucca by eventually living as dairy farmers at Valla.

This story was written from the records of the Nambucca Headland Museum. The museum is open from 2 to 4pm Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

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