Letters and Numbers on a Ship
Who remembers penfriend clubs? When I was young, children and many adults enjoyed communicating with penfriends in other countries.
Sometimes you found your penfriend through a school project. When I was in Primary School our city of Elizabeth, South Australia, became a sister city to Fremont, California and our school exchanged letters with students in schools over there. I don’t recall if I had a long-standing penfriend from that time but later on in my teens and twenties I had a lot.
Of course, there was no internet then but there was often a penfriend column in comics, women’s magazines and the Sunday papers. Through these sources, I also found out that there were clubs you could join for a small fee who would send you lists of potential new friends.
How exciting it was when the postman arrived and there was a fat letter, maybe with photos inside or perhaps a flimsy “Aerogramme” or a postcard. At Christmas, the cards would cover every surface in the living room.
I wrote to girls, and a few guys, in New Zealand, Canada, the USA and the UK mostly. I was interested in learning what it was like to live in their countries and I enjoyed writing about everyday life in Australia. My letters were nearly always long ones. I generally stopped when I had written as many pages as I could without having to buy an extra stamp, generally about five but I had large untidy handwriting. I always found it easier to communicate in writing than face to face as I was rather shy.
Mum also had penfriends and sometimes she and I would record a cassette tape to send to her Canadian penfriend who lived in Ontario near Niagara Falls. I would occasionally exchange cassettes with an American friend too. She took one of mine to the school where she was working as I think, a teacher’s aide, and told me that the teenagers in the class were most surprised to learn that Australians spoke English!
Eventually, we all lost touch. Letters became fewer as jobs, marriage and families took up more time. Perhaps the amount of time it took for the letters to travel across the world didn’t help either. Often by the time I got a reply to my letter I could not remember what I had said in it.
I did enjoy writing and receiving those letters though and perhaps that is why I enjoy blogging today.
Yesterday I heard that Australia Post had conducted an online survey to see whether people would prefer getting deliveries 3 days a week or paying $30 a year for the privilege of getting their mail 5 days a week. I would be interested to know if those were the only two choices given as I would not want to answer yes to either of them.
On the same day Hubby told me that our local post office operator was meeting with the State Premier to discuss the possible effects on owner operated licensed post offices if the Federal Government were to sell Australia Post. Obviously she has some concerns about her business.
I feel as if we are going backwards in some ways. When I was a child the postie came six days a week, Hubby can remember when there were two deliveries a day on weekdays plus one on Saturday morning. We would always know when the postie was coming as you would hear him blow his whistle as he dropped the mail at each house in the street. In those days many posties still rode a bicycle although the motorbike was already becoming the norm in the suburb where I lived. Australia Post was still the GPO then and along with the letters, cards, postcards, mail order catalogues and parcels there were also telegrams. Hubby’s first job was delivering telegrams on a bicycle. I can’t imagine that Hubby was the speediest thing on two wheels even in the 1970s but he assures me that telegrams for people living more than 3km from the post office were delivered by employees on motorcycles. Getting a telegram was an event but not always a good one. It might be news that someone had died, that someone was arriving unexpectedly or the one you always hoped for, the one that would tell you that you had won the lottery. If you were celebrating your golden wedding anniversary or 100th birthday you might get a telegram from the Queen and reading congratulatory telegrams at a wedding was still one of the best man’s more risky tasks as they were often full of double entendres.
The “Postie Bike” is such a familiar part of our landscape that they have become collectible, people buy them from Australia Post auctions, do them up, race them, modify them and tour on them. There was a club for collectors which no longer seems to be active but the website does have the technical specs for the bikes and links to other sites.
Saturday deliveries and the whistle disappeared a long time ago. Apparently all that whistling disturbed people and of course paying posties time and a half on Saturdays just wasn’t on. Telegrams are gone now too so we can no longer ask who will send the Queen a telegram should she live to be 100 like her mother did. It’s certainly true that we don’t write or receive letters and cards as much any more but with online shopping becoming so popular parcel post is booming.
Post Offices have changed too. Many of the grand old buildings have been sold and are now cafe’s, restaurants and tourist information centres while the post office is a more functional modern building more often than not located in a shopping mall. They provide many other services, bill paying, banking, enrolling to vote and applying for a passport are all things you can do at the post office. I used to sometimes use a post office in the Adelaide CBD which provided all of the above and also sold office supplies and other goods, the stamps you got from a vending machine outside the door! I don’t mind that so much, in a country town it’s very convenient to be able to do everything at the Post Office, especially if you are not computer literate as many of our older citizens are not. I do think it is a shame though when a grand building like the Adelaide GPO for example is modernised inside to the point where you can no longer enjoy the architectural features. Just because I’m buying stamps or paying the dog licence doesn’t mean I don’t care about the aesthetics.
I live in a rural community now and our local post office provides many of the services that we would otherwise have to travel 20 kms or more for. If we were to lose those services it would cause hardship to many local people. I realise that means little to the present government who are only interested in cost cutting but I think that would be a poor end to 205 years of postal services in Australia.