Visiting letter-boxes

By | Category: Travel destinations
dustbin as a letter box

Is the dustbin letter-box just for junk mail?

In the UK and Ireland, there is a slit in the front door of house through which letters, newspapers and small parcels can be posted. There is nothing unusual about these rectangular holes, indeed 99% of letter-boxes they are boring and no-one takes any interest. In Georgian Dublin, the doors are much more interesting than the letterboxes.

Not all countries have such a system though. In the USA, for example, standalone boxes where the post can be left are the norm but these tend to be of a pretty standard design and excite no interest either.

a toilet bowl masquerading as a letter-box

a toilet letter box sits atop an old compuler monitor.

But in Australia – to take another example – places used by postmen to deliver letters and packages can be quite unusual. And you don’t have to go far to see the difference. In central Sydney and in very modern houses and blocks of flats the letter-boxes are pretty much like elsewhere being boring and functional.

Move ten to twenty miles away and letter boxes begin to take on different designs. Move two hundred miles away into the bush and the same ingenuity can be seen. Visitors indulging in “letter-box tourism” can comfortably drive around the outer suburbs of Sydney without having to trek into the outback to see this ingenuity. Visit garden centres in the same areas and you’ll see brand new letter boxes made from metal. (Modern tastes seem to be for metal rather than the traditional wood.) But the boxes follow fairly traditional tastes. You can’t buy a letterbox recycled from an old computer, a toilet seat or a plastic water drum. Nor will they sell old stoves or fridges doubling as places to have the postman visit.

an aluminium beer cask adapted to a letter-box

the increasingly popular beer cask letter-box

Jump in a car and explore the northern suburbs out towards the Hawkesbury River where interestingly named suburbs like Wiseman’s Ferry, Canoelands, Fiddletown, Ebenezer, Leets Vale and Laughtondale and see an Australia that few tourists get to see.

This sort of area is where there are modern houses but it is a life far removed from that in the inner suburbs. Land is rarely subdivided into less than five acre blocks so houses are up dirt tracks. At the entrance to those tracks is the letter box. Never willing to let something go to waste, inspired Aussies have used what was to hand to create these letterbox gems, gems that are now appealing to visitors who have been known to drive around a photograph some of the more outlandish examples.

water cask letter-box

A box made from what was probably a water cask at one stage

The dustbin letter-box stood next to a more traditional one. the obvious conculsion was that the traditional box was for normal post and the dustbin was for junk mail and possible those little brown envelopes that no-one wants.For those who have an even lower opinion of the post, then how about a letter-box made from a toilet?  It sat on an old computer. Is that a superseded box? Maybe letters didn’t fit through the 5.25 floppy disk slot.

a plastic drum letter-box

an old plastic container that might have held paint or ready-mixed cement now acts a letter-box

Some readers might think that the letter box adapted from an aluminium beer cask was more representative of Australia! But in this land where drought can ravage lands for years rather than months, one person obviously decided that there would be no more droughts and turned a five gallon water container into his or her letter-box which seems to sit upon an old fence post.

Seemingly, letter-boxes can range from those where the owner doesn’t really care such as the dirty, disused plastic bucket that was bought from a D-I-Y store where it once held paint (still complete with handle) to those with modern designs that have a hole for a rolled up newspaper but which birds might get confused by and think they have come across an unused bird-box. The plastic drum doesn’t even have a house number painted on it or a flap to keep the letters safe from the weather or opportunistic identity thieves! Old oil drums – the smaller variety rather than those 44 gallon efforts – have also been dragged into use as letter-boxes.

oil drum as letter-box

an old and small oil drum perhaps with a welded on flap for this letter-box

Another, all most traditional, letter box in rural areas is the old milk churn.  Painted or left in its original state, you will seem dozens if not hundreds as you drive around. You can even buy them online or from some garden centres but that rather detracts from the image the other letter-boxes that Australians have cunningly crafted from any old thing they have left lying around. How many dairy herds are there in this neck of the woods? You are more likely to see alpaca grazing, orchid farms and fruit orchards than cows.

It was no surprise then to see a typical Australian shed-made construction. Having nothing better to do for a few minutes, one owner just cut up a couple of sheets of corrugated iron, slammed nails through to a post and that will suffice. It will probably last twenty years or more! Come to think of it, it might have been there that long already since the side is beginning to tear away from the rest of the “construction.”

metal letter-bix with tube for newspapers

is this a letter-box or a nesting stop-off for migrating birds?

If eying up letter-boxes doesn’t enthuse you then this are other things to see and do in this area between 30 and 45 miles north of Sydney. There are great views of the meandering Hawkesbury River from a couple of vantage points on the right as you drive up to Wiseman’s Ferry. Even before then and again on the right, when you come to a very large house built just below the road level you will see that the owner has cleared the bush (protection from a bush fire?) and the result is that the shimmer of the Blue Mountains can be seen in the distance. But, at dusk there is every chance you’ll see kangaroos, pademelons, the odd wallaby and maybe even a wombat. At Wiseman’s Ferry you can hire a boat for fishing or lounging in the various coves and creeks but on summer weekends, the area gets busy for just this pursuit. Water skiing is also popular on the quiet waterways. For other sights, click here.

milk churn as letter-box

a painted and treated milk churn as a letter box stands outside a gated house

Don’t our front door fixed letterboxes look a little staid and twee compared to those used by some of our Australian friends?

Can it be long before someone publishes a photographic book on letterboxes? There is already ones on outback toilets, outback buildings and bush garbage left behind as people moved on when termites or other hazards made houses unfit for habitation. Will it be before long that some entrepreneur decides that a half-day tour of letterboxes will be the next big thing?

For more about Sydney and NSW, click here.


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