Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The old Nelligen Post Office

The old Nelligen Post Office was built in 1900 and has been home to some seventeen postmasters and -mistresses. One of the earliest postmistresses mentioned was a Miss Middleton.

The post office prior to 1903 when there was no hall next door yet

The Post Office around 1910


Then, in 1950, Alan Collins was appointed postmaster, to be followed by his wife Jess Collins who reminisced about the post office thus:



Miss Middleton retired from the Post Office and a Postmaster took over who was always drunk, so the PMG sacked him and the house and Post Office became vacant. A family called Coy were given the position; Ray Fitzgerald married Delma Coy, then he resigned, and the position was vacant. Nell and Harry's friend was postmaster at Batemans Bay (Cliff Cary) and he rung up and told Alan to apply for the position. Al had no idea of bookkeeping, ledgers or such, but I had learnt double-entry as part of my schooling, so we thought we would give it a go, not expecting to hear any more about it. Imagine our surprise when we were told that Al had been appointed Postmaster of Nelligen, with a lovely residence as well. We sure celebrated on that occasion.

For several years Al remained Postmaster, but after several inspections from Canberra which were always unexpected, the PMG decided to appoint me as official Postmistress. So this was a lovely time in our life, with many friends and the old hotel near the ferry fairly rocked with singsongs and laughter where all our friends met.

Al was appointed Postmaster in 1950/51; two years later it was transferred to me. It was a money order post office. Those days we dealt with money orders, old age and war pensions, telegrams and almost continuous telephone operations. We were closed from Saturday at noon till Monday morning, but never refused anyone who knocked on the side door seeking mail or urgent phone calls. We were a very close-knit community.

Owing to Alan's illness, we left the Post Office in the care of Judith Donoghue in 1979 and moved to Canberra. Alan's illness worsened and in 1980 we sold the Post Office.



Jess and Alan Collins on verandah 1963

Nelligen Post Office on 12th Dec 1964, the day the bridge was opened

In 1971, the Collins bought the premises and sold them in December 1980 to Phil and Shirley Eldridge for $40,000.

Phil and Shirley Eldrige in 1982

from left-to-right: lady in blue dress Mary Thorpe, Stan Thorpe, Nelly and Arthur Tieman, Phil and Shirley Eldridge


Here is an abridged account given by Phil Eldridge of his time in Nelligen:


My wife Shirley and myself purchased the old Post Office building and business from Mr & Mrs Collins on the 3rd of December 1980 for $40,000, with Mr & Mrs Donoghue as rental tenants.

At that stage, Judy Donoghue was not only a rental tenant but she also ran the Post Office while my wife, back in Canberra, trained with Australia Post so that she could become the new post mistress.

These were exciting and scary times as I was getting ready to resign a secure government job after ten years of service to start this new business venture.

My wife Shirley had only just completed her final year of nursing at Woden Valley Hospital in the A.C.T. following a transfer from Lower Hutt in New Zealand and, apart from Post Office training, she was also two months pregnant with our twin daughters Kate and Emily.

We stayed on in Canberra until the girls were born before we moved down to Nelligen after the Donoghues had vacated the premises on 21 July 1981.

Times were difficult and challenging, having suddenly stopped a regular income, raising two five-and-a-half-week old twin daughters, taking on the postal duties, and meeting virtually the entire town who used to come and collect their mail in those days.

We became involved in the history of Nelligen and started by building a new building between the Post Ofice and Mechanics Hall, built to look old. This building was to become like a gallery of historic photographs, hence we named it the 'Past & Post Gallery' for tourists to view. The idea was to grow a business and devonshire tea/coffee shop as well as establish a small architectural drafting service.

Apart from the normal red tape that one expects through Council, we had other very important issues to contend with in trying to get this business off the ground:

You see, the rent Australia Post paid us for the actual Post Office front room and the wages my wife was paid were all based on the amount of use or business the locals gave to the post office and with the advent of easier access to Batemans Bay via the bridge and not the ferry anymore, people tended to take more and more of their business to Batemans Bay which continued to reduce both our rental income and wages until it reached apoint where it was no longer viable for Australia Post or us to remain open, hence the introduction of the home delivery mail service.

Anyway, we battled on with my wife having returned to nursing in the A.C.T. while I raised our two girls on my own, still ran the post office as it had not closed completely at this stage as well as work my architectural drafting service and still tried to develop the gallery next door.

After some time had passed, we realised we were not going to have the resources necessary to put all our business dreams into practice and so we made the decision to sell.

We eventually sold the Post Office and moved to Lower Hutt, New Zealand, in April 1983.

I look back at those Nelligen days which were giant learning curcesof my life through good and badtimes but I would say, on the whole, they were mainly happy times and memories and we still have a soft spot for Nelligen and its residents.



The post office ceased to operate in March 1982 and the Eldridges sold it sometime after that in a private sale to Douglas & Joan McCarron from Orange for $70,000.

Marion van de Pol bought it in 1990, restored it, turned it into a Bed & Breakfast, and added the Camp Oven Café, leased by Renate, a local German woman.

It was leased out to various managers, including a Russell and Barbara Coburn who passed it on to Seamus O'Kane and Beverly Roy in 1993. In 1996 the new managers Lillian and Bill Hardie celebrated the post office's 96th year with a Guest House Open day.

Marion van der Pol sold it in March 2000 for $400,000 to Peter and Sue Kenyon, who subsequently sold it in July 2004 to Mark and Tamara Korsten for $320,000. Mark and his family lived there without operating it as a B&B until Peter and Alison Kay bought it in February 2008 for $525,000.