creation and conveyance of information

Post & Telegraph


Telephone, news-reels, radio, TV & the Internet

Post and Telegraph

European settlers, as they moved up the Williams River Valley, were keen to maintain contact with others. Letters were commonly sent, at first carried by travellers, then via a regular postal service. That at Dungog was established by local landowner Duncan MacKay while acting as postmaster, a position he held along with being Clerk of the Bench in 1835. The position of postmaster was established after George McKenzie, writing as Magistrate, had requested such a position from the Colonial government in Sydney. At the end of 1834, the Colonial Secretary approved the establishment of a number of new postal positions, including ‘Dungog’, that name replacing ‘Upper Williams’. The mail travelled overland from Raymond Terrace.

MacKay was replaced by E. Cormack when he took over as Clerk. Cormack was reluctant to take both positions as the Clerk’s position was now much busier, however, the Colonial Secretary insisted.[1] When Cormack resigned in 1839, his place as both Clerk of the Bench and postmaster was taken by Mr Magrane, who, when he resigned in 1840, was prosecuted for ‘arrears of P.O. collections’, with Police Magistrate Thomas Cook instructed to reprimand the outgoing postmaster ‘in the Governor’s name’.[2]

The postmaster handled the letters and associated fees, but the actual delivery was by those contracted to do so by horse via Raymond Terrace or Maitland. William Kilpatrick in 1835 was paid £52 a year to carry the mail ‘on horseback once a week’ from Raymond Terrace to Dungog. The amount seems have reflected the length and difficulty of the route, as the contract from Maitland to Paterson, half the distance but twice a week, was only £24.[3] In 1841, Charles Boydell had the Paterson to Gresford mail contract for three times a week at £105 per year, though in 1845 he tendered for the same contract at only £50.[4]

The emphasis was very much on keeping up regular times as these 1847 route timetables confirm:


A postman on horseback to leave Dungog every Monday and Thursday morning at ten o’clock, and arrive at Raymond Terrace at not later than six o’clock, p.m., of the same days; and to leave the post office, Raymond Terrace, every Tuesday and Friday morning at ten o’clock, or immediately after the arrival of the steamer, and proceed to Dungog, arriving there in eight hours; but in no case shall the postman be detained at Raymond Terrace longer than ten o’clock of every Wednesday and Sunday; and provided also, that the said postman shall always call at Clarence Town and Seaham on the route to and from Dungog.


A one-horse mail cart, to leave Morpeth every morning at ten o’clock, or immediately after the arrival of the steamer, and to arrive at Paterson in two hours from the time of leaving Morpeth; and on return from Paterson, to leave that place at five o’clock every day, arriving and delivering the mails at Morpeth in two hours from that time.


A postman on horseback shall leave Gresford every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, at noon, and arrive at Paterson at half-past two in the afternoon, there to await the arrival of the mails from Morpeth, and then to return to Gresford, arriving and delivering the mails at that post office in two hours and a half after leaving Paterson.[5]

By the 1850s the Clerk of the Bench was no longer required to act as Postmaster and the job was being done by local storekeepers such as Hanna, Peter McWilliam and Thomas Doust in Dungog. When Doust got the job in 1858, he was paid £25 per annum. At this time the ‘postal lines’ were increasing and now included the 9 miles from Dungog to Bandon Grove.[6] In 1861, there was a once a week horseback service to Bandon Grove, costing £28 and three times a week from Dungog to Clarence Town, Brookfield and Seaham for £145.[7] In these more distant settlements the job of postmaster was often undertaken by schoolmasters to supplement their incomes, such as at Glen William in the 1870s where the teacher ran the post office and also a small store. The post office remained part of the Glen William school until at least 1900.[8]

A school teacher who ran the local post office was a common element in the smaller communities of the Williams and nearby valleys, as was the passing of an income earning position on in the one family. Gresford seems to have had a Post Office from at least 1841. In 1851, the schoolmaster of the Church of England Denominational School, Mr Bush, took over the post office, and when he died in 1887, his wife carried on, passing the position onto her daughter Emily in 1899. While Gresford continued with its post office, the nearby East Gresford also acquired a post office in 1900, and a new Post Office and residence was built there in 1937.[9] In the nearby community of Eccleston, the Sivyer family ran the postal service for a total of 92 years from 1859 until 1951.[10]

At Vacy on the Paterson River the postal service began in 1860 operated by the school teacher from his rooms at Clark’s Crossing, for which he received £12 a year plus commission on stamps sold. As was common, the wife of the next school teacher took on the postmistress’s role and continued to do so after the death of her husband when her daughter became the new school teacher. In 1878, the ‘money order system’ was extended to Vacy, but not until 1889 did the telegraph reach here, despite this service having been in Paterson since 1874. The telephone soon followed in 1892, installed in Vacy’s first purpose-built Post Office of 1891, which was nevertheless still attached to the school residence.

It was not until 1918 that a change in government policy saw the appointment in 1919 of Vacy’s first non-school connected postmaster. This new Postmaster literally lifted the post office from its position next to the school residence and shifted it by horse-drawn slide across the road to his own home; the telephone lines then followed. After this, the telephone exchanged dominated the service as the number of subscribers grew to over 100. In the 1960s it became a 24 hour service, with bells placed in the operator’s bedroom. In 1981, the Vacy exchange became automatic, and, in 1983, the post office services were transferred to a local shop under licence.[11]

By 1872, the postal service had much improved and could even claim next day delivery to Sydney from the three valleys.[12] By 1877, the mails were going via the regular coach services that now ran from Maitland to Dungog via Clarence Town, though the new bridge at Paterson would shorten this trip.[13] Before that, in 1874, the telegraph had come to Dungog also, with Thomas H Ryan appointed the Telegraph Station Master at £150 a year. It was not until the following year that this position was merged with the Post Office when Ryan also became the Post Master. This was a great saving for the government as Ryan received only £10 more for the two positions. Batteries were used to supply power to the telegraph equipment and a line repairer was also employed at £120 per annum. The dual positions were amalgamated into the single Post and Telegraph Master in 1885 on £200 a year. Before that, in 1878, land was purchased for £60 to build a new Post Office at Dungog, and this was completed in 1880 at a cost of £1,350. By the mid-1880s, the mails were three times a week, though flooding at Hinton could cause the carrier to divert via the only bridges at West Maitland and Dunmore. Service at the Dungog Post Office was through a window, replaced by counters in 1902.[14]

The telegraph was a much used system but not one that could be considered very private and it was said of one appointment to Dungog that he, ‘possesses the very great advantage, in a Telegraph Office, of being unconnected with any person in this town…’[15] The telegraph also brought other changes to the towns, such as the original ‘telegraph poles’:

We are pleased to observe that the Telegraph Department are at last erecting new and suitable telegraph poles in the town of Dungog. They are of iron bark, are planed smooth, and painted white, adding a clean and neat appearance to the town.[16]

Newspapers   Top

In addition to the mail and then telegraph, newspapers have, from the beginning, played a major role in communications within the Paterson, Allyn and Williams Valleys. The Sydney Gazette and other Sydney based papers always circulated and reported on local happenings. But from January 1843, The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser acted as the local paper for the region and its pages often reported the ‘District News’ of Paterson, Gresford, Dungog and Clarence Town, with this news supplied by local correspondents, usually anonymous. Then in 1888, Walter Bennett, originally from New Zealand, founded an even more local newspaper, called the Durham Chronicle and Dungog and Williams River Advertiser, later re-named the Dungog Chronicle. It was published with the announcement that, ‘we shall not shirk our duty’ in exposing any wrongs; ten years later Bennett became the local member in the NSW Parliament.[17]

For a time the Dungog Chronicle was not the only local paper, and in the early years of the 20th century, it was reported that: ‘Dungog also boasts of two newspapers, “The Dungog Chronicle,” – and “The Eastern Telegraph.” The latter paper is a Co-operative concern, and is edited by Mr. Madgwick, …’[18] Little is known about the backers of this rival newspaper or how political, if at all, the rivalry was.

Telephone, news-reels, radio, TV & the Internet   Top

The next major step in communications was the extension of the telephone to the district. There were few subscribers at first but gradually telephone exchanges were set up and many local women were employed as operators until automatic exchanges came into use. The mere existence of a new technology did not ensure its rapid distribution, and, in fact, the extension of telephone services up the valleys was quite slow. This can be seen in the dates at which the telephone reached up the Paterson and Allyn Valleys. While Vacy acquired the telephone as early as 1892, beyond that, Allynbrook had to wait until 1914, Eccleston the year after, and then Mount Rivers in 1917, with Lostock gaining this form of communication only in 1922.[19] At Clarence Town, a phone was placed in the P.O. in 1910 and an exchange established in 1915.[20]

The cinema, which found a permanent base in Dungog as early as 1912, also provided a general means of communication once the newsreels became a regular feature of the movie-going experience.[21] This did not occur until the 1930s, by which time Paterson, Clarence Town and Gresford all had cinemas operating with newsreels providing contemporary news until the 1950s. Before this, however, radio was also providing a new means of communication. While electricity had reached the towns in the 1920s, for most in the rural settlements, radios meant batteries and this meant regular re-charging at motor garages.

From the 1960s, the TV began to enter the home and, for many, provided the main means of communication, though neither newspapers nor radio were entirely supplanted. When first established, TV required high antennas on homes, until towers were erected on Cooreei and other hills around the area. More recently, satellites have made most, though still not all areas, within the Williams Valley as easy to communicate with as anywhere else on the planet. The rise of the Internet and email, as well as the ability of mobile phones to be ‘mobile’ have also greatly widened the scope of both individual and social communication far beyond the horse delivered mail that began the Williams Valleys’ communications with the world.

Heritage Survivals

  • Post offices
  • telephone exchanges
  • Dungog Chronicle office

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Cormack to Post Master, 15/9/1837 (Dungog Magistrates’ Letterbook).
  2. AA: C3629/1, Register of Inward Correspondence, 1834-1844, 16/6/1840.
  3. The Sydney Gazette, 20/1/1835, p.2.
  4. Sullivan, Charles Boydell, p.81 & p.98.
  5.  Maitland Mercury, 13/1/1847, p.3.
  6. ‘Extension of Inland Service in 1858’, Postmaster General’s Report, 1859.
  7. Postmaster General’s Report, 1861.
  8. Gorton, Glen William Public School, p.22.
  9. Collison & Handcock, Gresford 170 years, p.83.
  10.  Gresford 150 Years 1829-1979, Early Postal and Telephone Services, p.11.
  11. Clements, Vacy … One Hundred & Eighty Years of History, pp.53-60.
  12.  Greville’s Official Post Office Directory NSW – 1872, p.230.
  13. Report of the Mail Route between West Maitland, Paterson, and Dungog, Brown to Postmaster General, 28/7/1877.
  14. Williams, Ah, Dungog, p.34.
  15. AA: SP 32/1, Postmaster, Dungog to Secretary, General Post Office, Sydney, 18/4/1882.
  16.  Dungog Chronicle, 25/4/1899.
  17. Hazell, A Centenary of Memories, p.5.
  18.  Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 13/4/1912, p.2.
  19. Archer, Social and environmental change as determinants of ecosystem health, p.139.
  20. Essex, The Town of Lots of Time, p.11.
  21. See Leisure.