Post Offices & Stores
by Joanne Priestley
Post offices were an integral part of early communities. Mail would be conveyed to the post office in a loose bag and then sorted by the postmaster or postmistress and held until collection. Like today, post offices offered Commonwealth banking facilities.[i] At Toolangi Post Office you could also vote in Commonwealth[ii] and State Elections,[iii] view the Ratepayers’ Roll for Shire elections,[iv] Vote in Referendums for Military Service[v] and view Government Tenders.[vi] The position of, and access to, the post office was important. Land was sometimes purchased from private landholders to create easements for roads to make the journey to the post office shorter and easier.[vii] Even saving a distance of two miles, when on foot or horseback, made a huge difference to the Toolangi and Castella communities, especially in winter with the dirt roads and tracks becoming impassable.
Arthur and Sophia Bassett moved to Toolangi in 1894. They had eight children and lived on the north eastern corner of (what is now) Cherry Lane, facing the Toolangi State School. They began operating the Glenora guesthouse, but the Bassetts also had a tiny building beside their home and guesthouse which housed the post office. Sophia was the unofficial postmistress and was recognised by the community in 1898 for her kindness in taking charge of the mail bag.[viii] She was officially appointed postmistress on 1 August 1900[ix] and held the position until her death in May 1927.[x] Her husband, Arthur James Bassett, then became postmaster on 9 May 1927, and was assisted by his daughter Doris Scott. A year later, on 12 October 1928, another daughter, Winifred Bassett, was appointed assistant.[xi] In December 1935 the family advertised for sale, or lease, Glenora guesthouse, the post office and newsagency.[xii] Presumably the sale, or lease, was unsuccessful as Mrs Doris Scott was appointed postmistress on 22 September 1936.4 Doris held the position until November 1941 when she left the district.[xiii] The property was sold to Mrs Violet Shipp[xiv] who was appointed as postmistress on 5 November 1941.[xv] During the 1940s Mrs Shipp also started a small store she ran in conjunction with the post office.
Mr and Mrs Anthony (Tony) Kelly arrived in Toolangi in 1948 and purchased the Toolangi Post Office and store, with the position of postmaster being transferred to Anthony Kelly on 23 September 1948.[xvi] The Kellys expanded the store and began a grocery delivery service. As there weren’t many vehicles in the district, Mr Kelly also used his van to take people to Healesville for medical appointments or other emergencies. Tony also delivered the mail from Badger Creek and Myers Creek through to Castella for about six years while Mrs Kelly managed the store, the post office and the manual telephone exchange, with party lines to Healesville through Castella, Dixons Creek and Yarra Glen.[xvii] In the mid-1950s, the Kellys built a new store and post office next to Glenora but facing the Main Road. The store sold anything and everything, from water tanks to tins of beans. The Kellys also installed an underground fuel tank. Fuel was hand-pumped to a glass container on top of the bowser before a measured quantity of fuel was gravity-fed into the car’s tank. In 1969 Mr Kelly became a clerk with TAA (Trans Australia Airline) until his retirement in 1982, while Mrs Kelly continued operating the store and post office until its closure on 31 May 1974.[xviii]. The Kellys’ new store and post office have continued as a private residence, although the original Toolangi Post Office and Bassett’s guesthouse Glenora were demolished in 2012.
Mr Abraham Christopherson acted as an unofficial postmaster in temporary facilities at the Castella State School and Hall[xix] when it opened in 1917, until the official Castella Post Office opened in 1918, with mail being delivered from Yarra Glen.[xx] Castella Post Office is listed as opening as an RO (possibly regional or registered office) on 17 August 1918 before becoming a post office circa 1924.[xxi] Christopherson became the official postmaster from 1918 until 5 June 1935 when the position transferred to Mrs F. Brenda, a relative of Christopherson who lived on the property.[xxii] Her daughter, Miss Louisa Brenda, was appointed assistant on 24 June 1935 and retained this position after her marriage to Stan Pearce in 1942, as Mrs Louisa Pearce.[xxiii] In 1941 the property was advertised for sale as a 12-room house suitable for guesthouse and farming, with 9 or 130 acres.[xxiv] The Castella Post Office and an 11-room guesthouse on 9 acres were advertised for sale again in March 1946. Included in the sale were a further 125 acres, 10 chains away.[xxv] Mr Gustave Motel, or Motal,[xxvi] became postmaster on 11 April 1946 but by 5 May 1947 Mr Geo(rge) Clifton Boswell, known locally as Cliff, had purchased the property and was the new postmaster.[xxvii] Later the same year Cliff was appointed a Justice of the Peace[xxviii] but he was also a mechanic and operated a garage selling fuel in 44-gallon drums, repairing tractors and machinery, as well as selling a wide variety of farm and pastoral supplies.[xxix]
The first Castella Post Office was originally built beside the road with a long, rambling guesthouse behind. It seems the first post office was either burnt or demolished about 1960 and a ‘new’ post office operated from the end of the ‘guesthouse’, which was by that time the family home for the Boswells and no longer a guesthouse. When the Boswells sold the property 18 years later, no further postmasters were appointed and the Castella Post Office closed on 31 May 1965.[xxx] In subsequent years, the property was either purchased or tenanted, until the guesthouse and post office were destroyed by fire in 1971. A private home was rebuilt slightly east of the original guesthouse, and all that remains of the first post office is a concrete slab in a lawn.
The Priestley family has always believed that the old house near the start of the Dixon’s Creek Road (now Old Toolangi-Dixon’s Creek Road), purchased by Charlie Priestley in 1928, was an unofficial post office, possibly known as ‘The Landing’. The Landing was listed as a stop on the mail route until 1926[xxxi] and also referred to in motoring reports describing the journey from Kinglake to The Landing, near Toolangi and at the summit of the Great Divide, before the descent towards Dixon’s Creek.[xxxii] It would seem logical and convenient to leave and collect mail from the old house for the ‘western’ residents. In 1909, the site was also at the end of a timber tramways track where two paling dumps from the Australian Hardwood Company mill, later AJC, stored the palings while waiting for road transport to Yarra Glen.[xxxiii] The house was also referred to as a ‘tracking office’ by the Priestley family, where the original occupants would have overseen the paling dumps. The tramway was extended in 1910 to Christensen’s 1¼ miles south, but it seems the paling dumps were still being used until 1926[xxxiv] and possibly means the old house continued until then as an unofficial post office.
In 1896[xxxv] the mail was brought to Toolangi from Yarra Glen via Dixon’s Creek, Gunns Corner[xxxvi] and View Hill[xxxvii] to Toolangi State School along the Dixon’s Creek Road, two days per week for the princely sum of £14 19s 6d per annum. Tenders for the contract were again advertised in 1898 with Charlie Bath winning the contract.[xxxviii] Previously ,ail had been brought on horseback but Charlie also had a wagonette and would often pick up parcels and supplies which was much appreciated by the locals.[xxxix] By 1902 mail was to be delivered three days per week using a carriage or horseback.[xl] C. Holland was awarded the contract in 1905 for £23 18s per annum[xli] but it isn’t certain that Holland did, in fact, honour the contract, as an article in 1926 says C. Bath of Yarra Glen (he was also a councillor for 24 years) had held the Toolangi-Yarra Glen contract for 36 years, and presently held the contracts for, amongst others, Healesville via Myers Creek Road to Toolangi and Castella as well as Yarra Glen to Toolangi and Dixons Creek.[xlii] A further article in 1937 states that at Charlie’s retirement he was a Cobb & Co driver more than 50 years ago and had served the Toolangi district for 53 years carrying passengers, mail and parcels.[xliii] This dates his service to Toolangi and Castella as being from 1884 and postal delivery services from 1890, however the 1899 article refers to C. Bath as the new mail contractor,[xliv] who was appointed in 1898, which still equates to a period of 39 years delivering mail to Toolangi and Castella.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s it was often an arduous journey to get to the Toolangi Post Office for those living west of Toolangi and Castella and for some this necessitated a circuitous route along Campbells Creek Road to Spraggs Road to then join up with the Old Toolangi Road before travelling down past the Church to get to the post office. Mail conveyancers also had to travel the same long route. As the Main Road did not extend through the township at the time, many locals would cut through Smedley’s property to save the extra two miles.[xlv] By 1913 ratepayers were urging Yea Shire Council to purchase the private land and create an easement.[xlvi] The easement eventually became a public road and made travel to the post office much easier.
Toolangi and Castella were severed from the Yea Shire and annexed to Healesville on 21 April 1925.[xlvii] Later that year, the Toolangi Progress Association sent a petition to the Postmaster General’s Department requesting alternative tenders for routes (A) Healesville, Toolangi, The Landing, Castella and (B) Yarra Glen, The Landing, Castella and Toolangi as the Healesville-Toolangi Road was due for completion in January 1926.[xlviii] As the Healesville-Kinglake Road wasn’t going to be surfaced, it would be unusable in winter, so route B remained the only service. The Deputy Post Master-General inspected all the sites in March 1926 and recommended a new tender for route A to be advertised[xlix] so by July 1926, a daily mail service from Healesville to Toolangi via Myers Creek Road had been established.[l] In 1930, tenders were still advertised for mail delivery to Toolangi from Yarra Glen[li] although it is not known for how long Toolangi and Castella received mail from both Healesville and Yarra Glen. For the Healesville route it was decided to use a motor coach service to distribute the mail.[lii] It is believed that Mr Syd McNulty was the first person operating the delivery service from Healesville. He held the position until 1934 when the service was run by McConnell Motors of Healesville with drivers, Allan Heath and Joe Livy, well remembered by locals.[liii]
The first reference to a store was in 1896 when a notice of compulsory sequestration was issued to A. Walkeden, which listed, as part of the cause for insolvency, the purchase of Toolangi Hotel and Store.[liv] It isn’t known what the store sold, or for how long it operated, although Walkeden applied for a victuallers licence for Ye Queens Head Inne (Toolangi Hotel) in 1891[lv] so a store may have existed soon after this date. Another report in 1899 says that all accounts owing to Peter Henry, Toolangi Store keeper, had been put into the hands of a solicitor for collection.[lvi] It seems, however, that the solicitor wasn’t very successful as the recently opened store was shut down again and the owner driven out by the bane of the district ‘CREDIT’![lvii] Unfortunately it isn’t known where this early store was, but it’s quite possible it was the same store as the Toolangi Hotel store and was leased to Peter Henry to help recover debts owed by Walkeden.
In the 1940s a small store was situated next to D. & J. Evans sawmill, which was on the corner of Spraggs Road and the main road. It was operated by Mrs Moore, whose husband worked at the mill.[lviii] The building and business were later shifted across the road to the western corner of Spraggs Road and Healesville-Kinglake Road to George Griffiths’ property. This possibly occurred in 1951 as a building application permit from Healesville Shire Council was issued to G. Griffiths for Toolangi store.[lix] In a newspaper report from 1954, Geo(rge) Griffiths is listed as the storekeeper and Miss A. M. Dean as being ‘of the store’.[lx] The store, or kiosk as it was often called, had two lift up front windows to serve a limited variety of goods like lollies, drinks and lunches for the mill workers. Miss Anne Dean inherited the property and continued to operate the store. By the 1960s the store had closed and was moved to the Toolangi Recreation and Camping Reserve for use as a clubroom by the Toolangi Cricket Club. Additional renovations occurred in the 1980s until the old store was vandalised and subsequently taken down and removed.
Travelling salesmen and hawkers were a common site around the district in the early days. Their visits were eagerly anticipated as they might be the only person a family would see for months and were usually invited inside for a cuppa. One of these was a Miss Bell who brought groceries in a ute from her shop in Dixon’s Creek to the Priestley homes in the 1940s. Another was the ‘Rawleigh man’ whose suitcase unfolded to reveal ointments, potions and wonderful smells. But one of the earliest was an Indian man named Okum.[lxi] Okum was also known as Yokum or Gareeb, and travelled from Yarra Glen to Yea and Mansfield areas from about 1902 for 50 years. Initially, he travelled on foot carrying a heavy bundle on a pole over his shoulder and would collect the bundles sent by businesses in Melbourne to strategic places along the route.[lxii] Later, he had a covered wagon which was brightly painted, and the two horses were driven one in front of the other, rather than side by side. He sold haberdashery and drapery which catered for the making of clothes, curtains and bed linen as well as anything else for the home. He also carried family news between relatives and passed on general information from neighbouring districts.[lxiii] Possibly the most well-known was Mr Frank Ricardo. Frank’s father had begun hawking with a horse and cart in 1919 in the Whittlesea and Kinglake areas. Frank took over the cart in 1934 but soon purchased a Chevrolet truck that enabled him to expand the route into Toolangi and Castella. He also expanded the drapery and haberdashery business to include clothing, shoes and even batteries. In the 1960s Frank purchased a red Bedford van – remembered by many for its fascinating key and lock system to open up the sides of the van. This service operated throughout Toolangi, Castella and the Yarra Valley for about 60 years.[lxiv]
From 1949[lxv] Toolangi adults and children would eagerly wait at Kelly’s Post Office on Saturday mornings for a bus to take them to Healesville for shopping. McNamara’s from Healesville ran the service with a ‘clipper’ bus[lxvi] and later George Winford drove a Chevrolet bus.[lxvii] George also delivered the mail during this period.[lxviii] As more families acquired cars by the late 1950s the service was discontinued, but most still shopped on a Saturday morning when the family car was not being used for work transport.
In the mid-1960s, a new home was built by Mr Don Davis and family on Myers Creek Road near the intersection with Chum Creek Road. They later built a fairly large room on one side of the house for use as a shop. When the property was advertised for sale in November 1975 as a mixed business, the shop had a new deli, deep freeze and refrigerated units which allowed for the sale of perishable items. The business also comprised an authorised newsagency, mail run, nursery, petrol and oil.[lxix] Postal facilities had been transferred to the new store, but it only ever achieved sub-agency status. However, this status still required some postal delivery but for many years, mail was left at the store for collection until a full kerbside delivery service eventuated and all residents built a letterbox.
Subsequent owners included Jock and Pauline Crerar, and Phil and Mary Connelly who continued with the postal delivery service. The store had numerous owners in the years that followed and included Ian and Lyn McCall who enlarged the store and purchased a licence to sell take-away liquor.[lxx] Michelle and John Marshall purchased the site in October 2001 and continued operating the Toolangi General Store. On 1 September 2006 they opened a tavern they had built beside the old store.[lxxi] They closed and demolished the old store but left the original house Don Davis built. Michelle and John continued to operate a small store selling basic goods from one side of the tavern, before increasingly focusing on takeaway food. Eventually the Toolangi Tavern expanded its kitchen into the shop area and basically closed the general store component. Takeaway food was still available from the tavern until its closure in 2019.
Although one may think of the early days as those of isolation and hardships, the Toolangi and Castella community had ‘meeting places’ at the post offices, stores, hotel and guesthouses, as well as visits from travelling hawkers. Yet, in 2021 we are now without a general store, a post office, a hotel or visitor accommodation beyond a small number of local bed and breakfast type establishments. Mail is delivered to private roadside letterboxes and letters can be posted in the red street-posting box at the corner of Myers Creek and Healesville-Kinglake roads, Toolangi. Maybe modern living in Toolangi and Castella is also somewhat isolated?
[ii] Trove: Rutherglen Sun and Chiltern Valley Advertiser (1914-1918), 11 August 1914, page 3, ‘Advertising’
[iii] Trove: Yea Chronicle (1891-1920), 12 April 1917, page 2, ‘Advertising’
[iv] Trove: Healesville Guardian (Lilydale, 1942-1954), 3 July 1953, page 2, ‘Advertising’
[v] Trove: Rutherglen Sun and Chiltern Valley Advertiser (1914-1918), 17 October 1916, page 2, ‘Advertising’
[vi] Trove: Evelyn Observer and Bourke East Record (1902-1917), 23 April 1909, page 2, ‘Advertising’
[vii] Trove: Yea Chronicle (1891-1920), 8 October 1914, page 3, ‘Suggested New Road at Toolangi’
[viii] Trove: Healesville Guardian and Yarra Glen Advocate (1898), 26 February 1898, page 3, ‘District News’
[ix] Trove: Healesville and Yarra Glen Guardian (1900-1942), 10 August 1900, page 3, ‘Toolangi’
[x] Trove: Healesville and Yarra Glen Guardian (1900-1942), 14 May 1927, page 2, ‘Obituary’
[xi] National Australian Archives. Researched by Mick Livy, 2005, for Bob Pockett & Joanne Priestley, Editor Talking Toolangi
[xii] Newspapers by Ancestry: The Age (Melbourne), 4 December 1935, page 5, clipping_82189015
[xiii] Trove: The Argus (Melbourne, 1848-1957), 11 November 1941, page 2, ‘Country News’
[xiv] Correspondence to Bob Pockett from Violet & Cyril Shipp’s daughter, 1987. Pockett family collection
[xv] National Archives of Australia
[xvi] National Archives of Australia
[xvii] Mountain Views newspaper, 8 November 1985, ‘Mr Anthony Kelly’
[xviii] http://www.phoenixauctions.com.au/cgi-bin/wsPhoenix.sh/Viewpocdwrapper.p?SortBy=VIC&filter=*Toolangi*, retrieved 2.08.2021
[xix] National Archives of Australia
[xx] Trove: Yea Chronicle (1891-1920), 7 February 1918, page 2, ‘The Chronicle’
[xxi] http://www.phoenixauctions.com.au/cgi-bin/wsPhoenix.sh/Viewpocd.w? , retrieved 2.09.2021
[xxii] Trove: Weekly Times (Melbourne, 1869-1954), 7 February 1925, page 55, ‘Our Farm’
[xxiii] National Archives of Australia
[xxiv] Trove: The Age (Melbourne, 1854-1954), 1 February 1941, page 3, ‘Advertising’
[xxv] Trove: The Argus (Melbourne, 1848-1957), 6 March 1946, page 19, ‘Advertising’
[xxvi] Motel / Motal – Trove: Healesville Guardian (Lilydale, 1942-1954), 23 November 1946, page 2, ‘Advertising’
[xxvii] National Archives of Australia
[xxviii] Trove: Healesville Guardian (1942-1954), 1 November 1947, page 2, ‘Walking Records’
[xxix] Trove: Healesville Guardian (1942-1954), 2 December 1950, page 3, ‘Advertising’
[xxx] http://www.phoenixauctions.com.au/cgi-bin/wsPhoenix.sh/Viewpocd.w? , retrieved 2.09.2021
[xxxi] Trove: Healesville & Yarra Glen Guardian (1900-1942), 10 October 1925, page 2, ‘Healesville Toolangi Mail service’
[xxxii] Trove: The Argus (Melbourne, 1848-1957), 24 December 1919, page 5, ‘Motoring’
[xxxiii] Timber Mountain: A Sawmilling History of the Murrindindi Forest, 1885-1950, N. Houghton, Light Railway Research Society of Australia, 1986, page 53
[xxxiv] Trove: Advertiser (Hurstbridge, 1922-1939), 7 May 1926, page 4, ‘Eltham Shire Council’
[xxxv] Trove: Lilydale Express (1886-1926), 17 July 1896, page 2, ‘Conveyance of Mails’
[xxxvi] Gunns Corner was a culvert near Christensen’s on Dixon’s Creek Road. Trove: The Lilydale Express and Yarra Glen, Wandin Yallock, Upper Yarra, Healesville and Ringwood Chronicle (1898-1914), 10 May 1912, page 3, ‘Eltham Shire Council’
[xxxvii] View Hill may be incorrect as later tenders referred to it as Clear Hills – the name of Christensen’s property on Old Toolangi-Dixon’s Creek Road (Healesville & Yarra Glen Guardian, 21 May 1904, page 2). View Hill is situated along the Healesville to Yarra Glen Road, not the Dixons Creek Road
[xxxviii] Trove: Healesville Guardian and Yarra Glen Guardian (1898-1900), 4 August 1899, page 3, ‘Toolangi’
[xxxix] Trove: Healesville Guardian and Yarra Glen Guardian (1898-1900), 4 August 1899, page 3, ‘Toolangi’
[xl] Trove: Commonwealth of Australia Gazette (1901-1973), 25 July 1902, issue 35, page 373, ‘Victoria’
[xli] Trove: Commonwealth of Australia Gazette (1901-1973), 5 August 1905, issue 40, page 640, ‘Victoria’
[xlii] Trove: Advertiser (Hurstbridge, 1922-1938), 30 July 1926, page 2, ‘The Eltham & Whittlesea Shires Advertiser’
[xliii] Trove: The Argus (Melbourne, 1848-1957), 14 July 1937, page 7, ‘Other Districts’
[xliv] Trove: Healesville Guardian and Yarra Glen Guardian (1898-1900), 4 August 1899, page 3, ‘Toolangi’
[xlv] Trove: Yea Chronicle (1891-1920), 8 October 1914, page 3, ‘Suggested New Road at Toolangi’
[xlvi] Trove: Yea Chronicle (1891-1920), 10 July 1913, page 3, ‘Yea Shire Council’
[xlviii] Trove: Healesville & Yarra Glen Guardian (1900-1942), 10 October 1925, page 2, ‘Healesville Toolangi Mail service’
[xlix] Trove: The Age (Melbourne, 1854-1954), 5 March 1926, page 12, ‘Postal services’
[l] Trove: The Herald (Melbourne, 1861-1954), 3 July 1926, page 1, ‘New Mountain Mail’
[li] Trove: Advertiser (Hurstbridge, 1922-1939), 5 December 1930, page 5, ‘Advertising’
[lii] Trove: The Age (Melbourne, 1854-1954), 5 July 1926, page 5, ‘New Mail Service’
[liii] R.J. Pockett, ‘A History of Toolangi’, October 1986
[liv] Trove: The Argus (Melbourne, 1848-1957), 2 October 1896, page 5, ‘Compulsory Sequestration’
[lv] Trove: Lilydale Express, 27 November 1891
[lvi] Trove: Healesville Guardian and Yarra Glen Guardian (1898-1900), 30 June 1899, page 2, ‘Advertising’
[lvii] Trove: Healesville Guardian and Yarra Glen Guardian (1898-1900), 2 June 1899, page 2, ‘Toolangi’
[lviii] R.J. Pockett, ‘A History of Toolangi’, October 1986
[lix] Trove: Healesville Guardian (Lilydale, 1942-1954), 3 March 1951, page 3, ‘Healesville Shire Council’
[lx] Trove: Healesville Guardian (Lilydale, 1942-1954), 21 May 1954, page 3, ‘Healesville News and Notes’
[lxi] Louie Johnston (Priestley), interview with Joanne Priestley for Toolangi-Castella History Project 2021
[lxii] https://upperyarra.mailcommunity.com.au/news/2019-10-21/remebering-hawker-yokum/, downloaded 27.09.2021
[lxiii] Yarra Glen and District Historical Society Newsletter, No. 39, May 2011, page 3
[lxiv] Yarra Glen and District Historical Society Newsletter, No. 39, May 2011, page 4
[lxv] Heather McClements (Cherry), interview with Joanne Priestley for Toolangi-Castella History Project 2021
[lxvi] A clipper bus was a new design from America, brought to Australia in 1947 by Reg Ansett and produced in Victoria by 1950. It featured a lower centre of gravity. http://flxibleclipperclub.com.au/wp/?page_id=14, downloaded 10.10.2021
[lxvii] Dennis Cherry, interview with Joanne Priestley for Toolangi-Castella History Project 2021
[lxviii] Trove: Healesville Guardian (Lilydale, 1942-1954), 19 April 1952, page 1, ‘Coroners Inquest at Healesville’
[lxix] Newspapers by Ancestry: The Age (Melbourne), 1 November 1975, page 40, clipping_82204464
[lxx] Geoff Biggs, interview with Joanne Priestley for Toolangi-Castella History Project 2021
[lxxi] Talking Toolangi newsletter, Volume 10, Edition 41, September 2006. Editor Joanne Priestley