“Early Mail Service ends after Forty Years”

Joe Oliver worked for Jack Guthrie at “Mountain Park” Lower Bendoc, walking to work from Delegate on Monday mornings and not returning home until Saturday afternoon.

On the journey he shot rabbits as he went. This used to earn him as much as his wages.

In January 1933 he commenced duty as the mail delivery contractor from Delegate to Bendoc to Lower Bendoc and then back to Delegate, so Jack took Joe to Cathcart to help him choose a horse. He chose a big brown one (trotting breed), which he thought would be more suitable for the fun.

The last day he worked for Jack, Alex Guthrie and Joe finished fencing the back of the “Round Hill” paddock. Alex carved on the strainer post “Joe’s Last Day”. Alex said that it stayed there for years afterwards.

Joe’s means of conveyance was a sturdy sulky drawn by his horse “Royal”, and his route to Bendoc with the horse and sulky was via the Gulf Road on the eastern side of Delegate Hill. This later was changed to around Haydens Bog Road, to Bendoc and Lower Bendoc; thirty two miles and twenty eight gates back to Delegate. Of course the tracks Joe and Royal travelled in those days are not the roads that we travel today.

Joe and Royal became well known thoughout the district for fourteen and a half years, three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. They carried the mail and miscellaneous freight to every little farm and Post Office on their run. Miscellaneous freight was a dummy for the baby, something to fix a cough, cheque book, you name it – Joe carried it. Such was the implicit trust of his people that many would hand him their bank books and cash for depositing in the Delegate bank. Many folk regularly paid their accounts by handing Joe a blank, signed cheque to pay their store account.

It is well known that Royal would not pass a mail box without pulling up, mail or no mail, nor would he go to the Lower Bendoc Post Office unless he had his drink in the river first. May and Edward Razenski had the Post Office then but today the property is owned by Peter Hepburn.

Mrs Reg Clark and Mrs Ida Hays of Bendoc would get a lift to Delegate with Tommy Malins who had the Orbost Mail Run. Tommy had two horses and a coach and used to supply beer to the Bendoc Hotel and took passengers as well. To return home they would need to make an appointment with Joe as his sulky could only take one passenger at a time

I can remember before I started school waiting with my mother for Joe to come so I could give him my Santa Claus letter and many years later Joe told me he posted them!

In 1947 Joe decided that Royal had earned his retirement and turned him out in the best paddock he had. Royal was never put to harness again. Joe used to lead him to the farrier, and people asked him why don’t you ride him? Joe would say in his quiet way “his work is done!” Joe was pestered by people trying to buy Royal, but couldn’t stand to part with him as the horse had been too good a mate. Not once in all those years did Joe and Royal fail to get through with the mail despite rain, floods, snow or fires. All of those were encountered over the years and that proud horse got through.

However, no doubt in the winter of 1947 Royal’s horsey laugh could be heard all over Delegate when his modern counterpart, a Bedford ute was marooned in Delegate for a whole week, when the entire district lay under a thick blanket of snow (up to two feet deep in places). There it lay for more than three weeks and was topped by a heavy frost.

That was the only occasion in forty years that the people on Joe’s run failed to get their mail.

Then came that sad day in 1957 when Joe had to put Royal to sleep. He went out to feed him, Royal came trotting down the hill to Joe but his hooves slipped out from under him dislocating his shoulder. There is an old saying that “a mans best friend is his dog” but, to Joe, I?d say his best friend was Royal.

Even in 1969 when Joe took ill whilst on his run he was able to reach the last mail box before collapsing at the wheel and being carried off to hospital.

Joe’s son Barry then carried on the faithful tradition until June of 1973 when a department reorganisation of mail services rung down the curtain on the “Oliver Era”. The date was the 20th of June 1973.

Most of the old timers have passed on. Many of the little farm houses have disappeared, their sites are marked by a few sad fruit trees, but I know they would all wish to join the present grateful community in saying “Thanks Joe and Barry” (Not forgetting Royal who worked tirelessly beyond the call of duty).

There remain many untold stories about Joe and Royal and my thanks to Alex Guthrie, Beryl Phillips and Barry Oliver for photos and information included here.

Written by Dorothy Hepburn 2003