Letterboxes in country Australia are quirky things.
They are constructed from all manner of things – and most often homemade. Old milking cans, perched on their side – and often with the bottoms almost completely rusted out – are a long held favourite. A more modern take on this is the old gas bottle – one would think they would be a bit sturdier than the milking can – alas, they too seem prone to rust. Even more peculiar is the recent popularity of old microwaves. I must say, this does not do it for me at all. I don’t like microwaves at the best of times. But I guess it’s probably reasonably waterproof – something most country letter boxes are not.
Then there is a never ending parade of handmade skill, ingenuity or imagination – my favourite round here is that white peaked-roof little house number at the top with the sweetly painted door – very traditional and so big – there’d be no parcel too big for the postman to leave in that one! I could practically sit in it and wait :-) Julian likes the next one down – a combination of little Swiss Chalet with a heap of mechanical cogs and wheels attached for extra bling. He plans to make one similar to this.
As for that very old oven, precariously woven onto a quartet of star pickets, well, it sure is quirky, but I’m surprised the postman dares to open it!
I looked up rural letterboxes on google – just to see what they looked like in other parts of the world – and found that there are letterboxes especially made for rugged conditions. Huh! Well, I can tell you now, no one around here bothers with that kind of fancy-jiggery. They go through the scrap pile and make do!
Another feature of country Australia letterboxes is that they usually hold more than your letters! Frogs, toads and spiders (both harmless and deadly) are common fare. We had a frog and toad sharing our letterbox all summer – which made me smile every time I peered in – it was like our own little Arnold Lobel tableau come to life – I would not have been surprised to see Frog tidying our mail, and even more delighted if Toad had baked me a cake :-)
Snakes are also common – ugh! We have plenty of snakes round here – and not your sweet little harmless ones – but red belly black snakes (shy but very poisonous) and browns (quite aggressive and deadly). Yep, in Australia we don’t like to do things by halves. Folklore says that if you have red belly blacks, you won’t have browns because the blacks eat the browns’ babies. I won’t be counting on that. Imagine how big the snake could be that could fit in that huge white letter box! I’m shuddering just thinking about it! Sometimes I think it would be wise to check the mail with gloves and a stick.
But the quaintest thing about country letterboxes is that they are not often outside your house/farm. Instead, they are all perched on the side of the road at the beginning of your road – with road being a euphemism for winding, pot-holed dirt track that may well go for miles, getting more track like and more prone to flooding the further it goes. I love it :-) It’s like the pinboard you find in a university department when you hop out of the lift – you know, the kind that has a photo of everybody who works there with their name underneath. You peer at them – usually an eclectic assortment of easy smiles, sullen stares, and grim frowns – as you’re wondering which tutorial to sign up for, wondering which ones are nice, which ones are funny, which ones are reliable, and which ones will make you wish you never came to university.
The letterboxes are just like this! They are the street’s version of the photo pinboard with their individual peculiarities inviting you to ponder who lives where and what they are like! I bet the person who built the Swiss Chalet with mechanical cogs and wheels has a wonderful attention for detail and keeps all his Owner Builder magazines chronologically with a cross reference for different building methods. And the person who perched the old oven on its stilts loves a laugh and hunting through the darkest and dingiest farm sheds, and probably watches Howl’s Moving Castle once a month. As for my favourite – well that’s clearly a farm that has been lovingly handed down through the family and great grandad built that letterbox for great grandmother as a consolation present when she gave birth to their fifth son!
As such, Mum decided that our inherited letterbox – the dull little rusted thing with the name Neal – did not say anything useful about us! So, with the expectation that building a beautiful letterbox will be long way down Julian’s list of things to do, she found a perfectly serviceable little letterbox at the dumpshop (why throw money away on new when the dumpshop almost always has what we need!), sanded it back, gave it a coat of rustkill and proofing, then painted it a divine glossy red – as a tribute to dear old Grandad’s decades of service to Australia Post and because red is always fabulous. Mum did such a lovely job!
And I, of course, added my own bit of letterbox bling. A “boot” for the front – with flowers growing out of it – our name, and across the top I painted the number as big as possible – don’t want the postman getting mixed up – and more flowers. Mum was delighted! Julian just smiled and shook his head – and maybe moved “build letterbox” further up the list ;-)
So the other Saturday morning, as we sat on the porch contemplating the day’s list or gardening and animal chores, we bumped “plant letterbox” up to the top. We chucked all the tools we’d need into the back of the car and drove on up to our road’s letterboxes – where we met up with some neighbours and had a good old chinwag and planned a street party! Julian yanked out the old disaster – it was so precarious it was a miracle it had not toppled over – and dug the hole much deeper. He planted a lovely sturdy fence post (also bought at the dumpshop – yes!) nice and deep and filled around it with fine little pebbles, bashed them down with the crowbar, then packed in more dirt on top. Next he screwed on our cheerful little letterbox – then realised I had painted it “back to front”. That was a moment. Well of course I did because it’s not really back to front! I want to be able to pull up in the car right beside that letter box, flip back the lid and peer in. Perfect! He thinks I’m mad – but loveable.
Yep, our little letterbox might not score high on the country Australia quirky letterbox scale but it definitely says “The Boots live here!”, don’t you think :-) And now we are that bit more firmly planted here in our beautiful valley. Sigh!