The post office has a great charm at one point of our lives. When you have lived to my age, you will begin to think letters are never worth going through the rain for. – Jane Austen
Do you remember the last time you received a handwritten letter in the mail box? Walking down to the letterbox to collect the mail used to be a daily event, but in the 21st century we barely need to do it once a week, if that. It’s a shame really. I know that email and texts are quick and convenient, but there is something special about receiving a handwritten letter in an envelope that has been hand addressed with a stamp in the corner that has been attached… by hand. The letter has then been passed from hand to hand until it finally lands in your letter box. It is a very physical and tactile endeavour.
In Australia our mail delivery service is called, quite originally, Australia Post. Nowadays Australia Post agencies can be found in most urban shopping centres, but they don’t quite have the same grandeur and elegance as the old Post Offices built in the nineteenth century. Sadly not all of those have survived, but the heritage listed Post Office in Toowoomba’s city centre is one of only four that were built in Queensland in what is called the Classic Revival Style. This architectural style incorporates some of the features of the classical style, such as symmetry and repetition, without being overwhelmingly severe.
The Post Office was completed in 1880 using sandstone that was quarried from Spring Bluff, not far from Toowoomba. One of the most striking aspects of the building is the clock tower. The building continued to be the centre for mail delivery until 1999, when Australia Post relocated to another site and now it is used for offices and a cafe.
Mail delivery was quite a feat in the nineteenth century. While we are quite accustomed to posties on motor bikes, the early European settlers had their mail delivered to Toowoomba first by pack-horse and then by horse-drawn coach. The road up the range into Toowoomba is quite steep enough today, but it would have been quite a different story for a horse-drawn coach in the days before sealed roads. By 1865 the Cobb and Co transport service had become the official mail deliverer for Queensland. The Cobb and Co service started in Victoria, before expanding to New South Wales and Queensland, and was in operation until 1924, transporting passengers and mail across the state. If you are ever visiting Toowoomba, the Cobb and Co Museum is well worth a visit.
Old buildings like the Post Office are more than just beautiful, elegant buildings. Gazing at the arches and the size of the sandstone blocks reminds me of the sheer hard work it would have taken, without the benefit of modern machinery, to construct a building like this. It is worth noting that while the architects of these buildings are remembered, the names of the labourers doing the back-breaking work are long forgotten. I am glad that their work is being preserved.
This is the first part in a series that will highlight some of the historic buildings located in Toowoomba’s city centre. I hope you will enjoy the stroll as we explore Historic Toowoomba.