Brisbane post office a trailblazer

Media release: Monday, 12 May 2014

Brisbane post office was a trailblazer in many ways.

'It was possibly the first building in Australia to install electricity in 1883 and the first to introduce the typewriter to its telegraph office in 1892,' says Mairi Popplewell from the National Archives in Brisbane who is giving two free public talks on Queensland's postal history later this week (16 and 21 May).

'The first modest post office opened at Moreton Bay in 1842, when it ceased being a convict settlement.  The far grander sandstone building, completed in 1872, even had horses stabled at the back for telegram messengers.'

When the Brisbane post office museum was disbanded in the 1990s, the National Archives transferred the Commonwealth records into its custody.  Among the preserved records is a letter from inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, thanking the postmaster for a guided tour of the Brisbane telephone exchange in 1910.

'He took pride in inventing an industry that employed women on a large scale,' said Mairi Popplewell. 'The original telephone operators were men but they quickly proved too abrasive when dealing with customers.'

The collection also includes a report on the halfpenny war postage tax, introduced in 1918.

It notes that the day after the announcement the stamp counter at the GPO was crowded by 'members of all classes of the public' and that 72,000 halfpenny stamps were sold that day.

'We also have the log of the airplane Astraea's journey from Australian to England over 18 days in 1933,' said Mairi. 'The diary-like log written by Hudson Fysh, one of the founders of Qantas, gives an insight into air travel at the time, when passengers stopped to sleep each night in varying degrees of comfort.'

The postal collection also includes a range of  letters and memos which were 'cross-hatched', typed and written both down and across the page.

'People did this to save paper or to save on postage when you paid by the page or by weight,' said Mairi. 'Organisations as well as individuals used this paper-saving technique.'

The free public talks at the National Archives of Australia, 16 Corporate Drive, Cannon Hill will be held at 2pm on Friday 16 May and 10am on Wednesday 21 May. Bookings can be made on (07) 3249 4200.

Contact information

  • Mairi Popplewell (Assistant Director, Brisbane Office)
    t (07) 3249 4205
  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0427 853 664 e elizabeth.masters@naa.gov.au
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2014