Happy birthday: Australia Post turns 200

Postie: Archie Lenten enjoys the outdoor life. Photo: Eddie Barkla

Postie: Archie Lenten enjoys the outdoor life. Photo: Eddie Barkla

Two hundred years ago on 26 June 1809, Australia’s first Postmaster collected 36 letters which had just arrived from England marking the beginning of Australia’s oldest continually operating commercial organisation: Australia Post.

The first Postmaster was Isaac Nichols, a former convict who had arrived on the Second Fleet. He was appointed in 1809 because letters and parcels were being stolen from ships arriving at the port of Sydney.

“Life was often bleak and lonely for the first settlers as they waited for news from home. It would often be months before a ship was sighted offshore which was enough to create pandemonium on the wharves,” said Australia Post Managing Director, Graeme John. “From linking the colonies to distant Europe, forging overland mail routes and building the nation’s communications infrastructure, the postal service has left an indelible impression on Australia. “

The bicycle was introduced in July 1898, after about a month’s trial, to clear pillar boxes and deliver letters and telegrams. According to a Post Office report one bicycle could do the work which formerly required a wagon, teamster, two horses and a box clearer. The bicycle therefore saved the post office some hundreds of pounds.

The post office bicycle was based on the safety bicycle concept developed in Great Britain in 1885. It was strong, light and durable. The company fortunate enough to win the first Post Office contract was Massey-Harris.

Today there are approximately 220 bicycles being used to deliver the mail in Victoria, out of some 3,000 delivery rounds. Locally in Bendigo there are  three posties who make regular deliveries  on a pushbike. Push bikes are still considered a safe option for post services where closer interaction with the general public is warranted.

We caught up with Archie Lenten who has been a postie for the past 12 years of which six have been as a  push bike postie.

Five days a week Archie sorts  up to 60 kg of mail per day and loads up with an average  ‘takeout’  weight of  20  kg of mail requiring delivery to a potential 1,000 addresses on his 25 km route.

The bike Archie rides weighs 30 kg prior to adding the additional weight of the letters and parcels. It is single geared with a back pedal brake assisted with a large drum brake on the front wheel. The bikes have a very unusual long head stem to account for the large carry basket that is over the front wheel but attached to the frame making turning quite daunting when the basket masks the vision of the front wheel. The front basket has a safe carry load of 16 kg as do the pannier bags on the rear rack. If fully loaded, the total weight would be 62 kg of bike requiring to be propelled up hill and down dale.

Archie related that there are only two hills that really challenge him and these make good training for the recreational rides he prepares for – the Otway’s Classic and Round the Bay in a Day.

Archie said his greatest enemy is the perennial magpie and his helmet bore the marks of many close calls in the polystyrene mouldings. The other danger is that of being backed over when residents came out their driveways not aware of his presence. There are times when pedestrians pose a problem when they are distracted wearing iPods and wander across Archie’s path. “All the joys of a posties life,” laughed Archie.

Prior to leaving the Mail Centre there is a quite detailed 11 point safety check that covers:

  1. brakes
  2. handlebars
  3. pedals and cranks
  4. mail carry baskets
  5. seat
  6. wheels
  7. tyres
  8. bell and reflectors
  9. chain
  10. frame
  11. general inspection including presentation and cleanliness.

The checklist is signed off each day and the end of the week by the supervisor, something we could all take note of to ensure our safety on the road.

The postal service of today is something the outback mailman of the 19th century could never have imagined. Australia Post serve around a million customers in their postal outlets every day, delivers mail to 10.5 million addresses across Australia and last year carried 5.6 billion mail items.

Australia Post is continually evolving to meet the challenges of a new era of international commerce. Australia Post operates the largest retail network in the country with 4,453 outlets and 2,561 of those are in regional and remote areas. Australia Post Managing Director, Graeme John conveyed this message to past staff; “We want to say thank you to all our staff who have worked for Australia Post and the Australian public for supporting us for so long,”

See you on the road soon God willing

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