Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Identical Post Offices - Pakenham East and Elwood

In our last blog post we looked at the Berwick Post Office which was identical to two other Post Offices built in Victoria in the 1880s, Murtoa and Donald. You can read this post here. In this post we will look at two other identical Post Offices, both of which opened in 1925 - Pakenham East and Elwood.

Pakenham East Post Office, 1920s
State Library of Victoria Image H89.105/186

This was the fourth Post Office in Pakenham, or Pakenham East as it was then called. The Back to Pakenham souvenir booklet from 1951 tell us that the post office for Pakenham was originally at the railway station. It moved to the site of what is now Mr J. Lia's butcher's shop , then to the site occupied by the cafe next to the picture theatre, and thence to the present site (1). The building was in Main Street, where the existing (the fifth) Post Office is today. The original Pakenham township was on the Princes Highway near Bourke's Hotel on the Toomuc Creek and the Pakenham East township developed around the railway station which opened in October 1877. There was much confusion between the towns, as this article  from 1912, belows, tells us.

Confusion between the Pakenham and Pakenham East Post Offices

Great confusion occurs in regard to the post offices here. The Pakenham Post-office is situated 1½ miles from the Pakenham railway station while the post-office at the railway end is called East Pakenham. Nearly the whole of the business people reside at East Pakenham. The shire buildings and public hall are also there. During one week over 600 letters addressed to Pakenham belonged to Pakenham East. The postmistress at the latter office has just been notified that £10 per annum is to be taken from her salary and given to the other office for the purpose of carrying the mail to and from the station.

It wasn't just the Post Offices which were rivals as in the early days there was keen rivalry between the 'old' and 'new' towns. Happily that feeling gradually faded away with the passing of the years, With the steady expansion of building along the Highway, Pakenham and Pakenham East are today to all intents and purposes the one town - geographically and in outlook (2). This was written in 1962 and the use of name of Pakenham East faded from the 1970s (3). The Post Office building was demolished in the 1990s (4). 

This photo from the 1980s shows the Post Office when it was called 
Pakenham, with the postcode 3810. 

The identical Post Office that was built at Pakenham East was, as we said, the fourth building there, but in Elwood, it was their first Post Office. The locals had been agitating for  a few years for a Post Office (5) and in 1923 land was purchased on the corner of Glenhuntly road and The Broadway, Elwood for the building (6). It is interesting that Elwood and Pakenham East both had the same Post Office because at the time Elwood had a much larger and growing population. In October 1923,  the Mayor of St Kilda, Cr Allen,  had spoken of the need for a Post Office in the area because  in nine years the population of Elwood had increased from 5,509 to 9,469, and the number of houses from 1,339 to 2,608....At present the nearest post-office to Elwood was more than a mile away, many residents had to pay porterage on their telegrams. It was estimated that at least 2,100 houses would be served by the proposed post-office (7) Compare this to Pakenham East which had a population in 1921 of  324 people and Pakenham of 608. Even twelve years later in 1933, Pakenham East's population was 850 and the old town of Pakenham was 406, still many times less than Elwood's population (8).

The tenders for the  construction of the  Pakenham East and Elwood Post Offices were advertised in April 1925.

Tenders are invited for the erection of the Elwood and Pakenham East Post Offices.

The Elwood Post Office
Image: The History of St Kilda from its first settlement to a City and after, 1840 - 1930, v. 2 (9).

The contract for the Pakenham East Post Office was awarded to the builders, Cant & Bennett of Footscray on May 6, 1925 and it was to be completed by  August 26, 1925. The cost was £2,330. The Elwood Post Office tender was awarded to W. Simmins of Auburn on April 27, 1925, the completion date was September 14, 1925 and cost was £1,835. 

Contracts accepted for a number of projects including the Pakenham East and Elwood Post Offices. 
Click on this link https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/232530228 to see the original document on Trove.
Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, June 4, 1925

There were issues with place names for Pakenham and Pakenham East, as even in 1912 people were addressing letters to Pakenham which should have been addressed to Pakenham East. Pakenham East people seemed to be content with their Pakenham address; though the erection of the Post Office in Elwood had the opposite effect, and was the source of some consternation.

The Age reported in November 1925 that  Residents of South St. Kilda are at present up in arms against the proposal of the Post Office to include portion of their district, from the Elwood Canal to Dickens-street, in the new postal district of Elwood. To consider the matter a meeting of nearly a hundred indignant South St. Kilda residents, lasting nearly two hours, hotly debated the proposal at the Congregational Hall, Mitford-street, St. Kilda. Cr. Dawkins, in moving a motion of protest, said Elwood was a name associated with a swamp, and no one wanted to live near a place where a swamp formerly existed.  The application of the name to portion of South St. Kilda would cause the value of property there to deteriorate in value (10). In the end the locals were allowed to continue using their South St Kilda address, but the mail came from the new Elwood Post Office (11).  The area is now called Elwood. The Elwood Post Office building is still standing and is used as a cafe.

Elwood Post Office, c. 1920s.
State Library of Victoria Image H89.105/84

Trove list
I have created a short list on Trove of articles relating to the construction of the Pakenham East and Elwood Post Office. Access the list, here.

(1) Back to Pakenham March 3-10, 1951 Souvenir Booklet. The booklet was compiled by W.J. Stephenson on behalf of the 'Back to Pakenham' Committee.
(2) From Bullock Tracks to Bitumen: a brief history of the Shire of Berwick, p. 76-77. This book was published in 1962 by the Historical Society of Berwick Shire.
(3) Use of the name Pakenham East, these two examples of advertising from N. N. Webster, Pakenham Real Estate Agents, who had an office on Main Street tell the story of the use of the name Pakenham East in the 1970s. Source: Newspapers by Ancestry.

The Age March 14, 1970.

The Age February 15, 1975

(4) The Post Office was still there in November 1985 as the aerial below was taken then.

However, by the nineties the corporatised Post Office was in the business of leasing back Post Offices rather than building a community facility. The advertisement from September 1997 tells us that the Post Office was now in 'Pakenham Post Office Arcade' which is on the site of the 1925 building, so it had been demolished by then.

The Age September 20, 1997
Source: Newspapers by Ancestry.

(5) The Herald, October 2, 1923, see here.
(6) The Herald, October 11, 1923, see here.
(7) Prahran Telegraph, October 19, 1923, see here.
(8) Pakenham and Pakenham East population figures from the Victorian Places website  https://www.victorianplaces.com.au/pakenham
(9)  Cooper, John Butler The History of St Kilda from its first settlement to a City and after, 1840 - 1930v. 2 (City of St Kilda, 1931), photo is opposite page 116. Thank you to my fellow historian, Isaac Hermann, for supplying me with the photograph. I was looking through this book for research on a story on another blog  I have, Victoria's Past - rescued and retold and I saw this photo of the Elwood Post Office and immediately recognised it as the twin of Pakenham East.
(10) The Age November 18, 1925, see here.
(11) The Prahran Telegraph, December 11, 1925, see here.

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