Rain, hail or shine, Australia's postmen and women have continued to deliver the mail. As well as braving the elements, posties have also battled furry-faced foes. A file in the National Archives’ collection documents a struggle as old as time – postman versus dog.
Reports of clashes between dogs and postmen were numerous during the 1950s and 60s. Several of these interactions were recorded by the Postmaster-General’s Department in a file titled 'Welfare – attacks by dogs on employees whilst performing official duties', held at our Western Australia Office.
A 'ruff' encounter
On 2 July 1955, postal worker AW Cooper, who delivered mail in the Perth suburb of Bayswater, reported that he had been attacked by a resident dog of 6 Crowther Street.
The incident was apparently the third time Cooper had been attacked by the savage beast, and he testified that, on each occasion, it had taken him approximately 10 minutes to dodge the animal. As a result of these scuffles, he was unable to continue to work following the incidents owing to exhaustion.
The postal investigation section took Cooper’s report very seriously. The dog’s owner was promptly interviewed by local police. Mrs Laura Annie Alcock stated that the dog was not normally savage; in her opinion, the pooch was more playful than ferocious.
Following the investigation, the acting commissioner of police reported to the Postmaster-General’s Department:
The dog is a corgi described as not much bigger than a cat and the police officer who interviewed the owner found it to be very friendly and showing no evidence of being a savage.
Mrs Alcock was instructed to keep her dog inside the boundary of her property in future – undoubtedly much to the relief of Postman Cooper.
Halt the hounds
In all seriousness, dog bites were a major issue for postmen. In 1958, the Postal Workers Union proposed that the Post and Telegraph Act be amended to provide that persons who owned dogs likely to attack employees be asked to call at the post office for their mail, rather than having it delivered.
The union's request was denied, and so research into dog deterrents became a chief concern of the Post Offices Branch. Options like an American-designed dog repellent named 'Halt' were tested.
The use of gaiters fitted with an in-sewn steel bar was also given serious consideration. The seasonal change in attire worn by postmen was identified as a risk factor for dog attacks. One postmaster in Rivervale, perhaps speaking from experience, voiced his belief that the 'sight of bare skin could be at times too great of a temptation for even a well-mannered dog to resist!'