Family and local history sources in postal records

Author: Anne Birgan

Background to the records

The National Archives of Australia holds postal records dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. Responsibility for postal matters was transferred to the Commonwealth Government on Federation, along with many of the colonies’ postal records. These records, now held in the National Archives, can be a valuable source of material for family and local history research.

In these records, you can find information on the people that carried the mail, people who lived on the delivery routes, and geographical and local history. There are files on staff appointments, accounts, telephone services, mail delivery routes and contracts. Photographs in the collection illustrate the difficulty of delivering mail to many outback regions.

Selected postal records

Delivering the mail – people and places

The records on mail delivery routes and contracts include details about individuals and where they lived, making them of particular value to family and local history researchers. People who delivered the mail generally came from the local community. When tendering for mail runs, applicants filled in forms which record basic details such as their name, address and payments. The forms are sometimes accompanied by documents like Certificates of Nationality, which show the applicant’s date and place of birth and their parents’ birthplace.

Delivering mail to the outback was not always easy. Contractors faced hazards such as flooded creeks and bushfires, so reliable transport was important. In 1946 the only tenderer for the Roma to Monclova run in south-west Queensland promised to upgrade his ‘old Buick car in reasonably good order except for the tyres which are worn out’ with a ‘30cwt. Diamond T Truck’ if he was successful (NAA: BP8/1, F1950/540). This type of information can be found in official reports on the tenderers.

The files also contain information about the families who received the mail. Petitions requesting alterations to the mail routes, or more frequent mail delivery, include the name, address and occupation of signatories. The official reviews of these requests provide lists of households and the number of adults in each.

There is also much to be learned about the locality served by the postal service. Sketch maps show existing and proposed routes and include names of properties and residents, and the location of railways, stock routes and schools. Reports by District Inspectors on existing services often describe the local businesses in the area. The 1938 report on the Nambour to Bli Bli service on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, for example, describes ‘a closely settled cane growing district from Nambour to the Maroochy River 6 miles away … prosperous and well established … supplemented by vegetable gardening and dairying on progressive lines’ (NAA: BP8/1, F1950/674).

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019