Getting the mail

The original Light Pass PO, in the schoolteacher's residence
Lights Pass postmark 1933

Lights Pass postmark 1933

Up until recently, the mail delivery has been an important part of our lives. Remember waiting anxiously for the postman’s bell, and news of loved ones, exam results, health tests, tax refunds, postcards from abroad or birthday mail? And this was even more so in colonial Australia, when distance and isolation were often greater, and good communication even more important.

You may have heard on the news that Australia Post is considering making another change to the postal services, with mail perhaps being delivered only once a week. However, postal services have always had to adapt to changing times and needs. And the postal service in Australia and at Light Pass has done the same over the years.

Australia’s first postal system.

Commemorative stamp

Commemorative stamp – Isaac Nichols boards the ship to take the first official mail collection.

Before we get on to the Light Pass postal service, let’s set the scene with some background of Australia’s postal service in the early days.

When the colony first began, people – eager to hear news and receive parcels from home – rushed the ships as soon as they docked at the harbour.  The result was bedlam, with fights breaking out, and people being hurt. If they were lucky enough to even get their mail, there was no system of pre-payment and people were charged whatever exorbitant prices could be asked. The Lieutenant-Governor General was soon forced to deal with complaints of fraud, theft and extortion of the mail. Something had to be done…

In April 1809 Isaac Nichols, a former convict, was appointed as the first official postmaster. He was authorised to board ships and receive letters and parcels addressed to people within the colony.  On 26 June he boarded the brig Experiment and collected the first bag of mail from Britain. He established an office at his home in George Street, where letters could be picked up and the collection prices would be fixed. This was the beginning of the postal system in Australia.

Horse drawn Cobb nd Co coach with baskets of mail

Horse drawn Cobb & Co coach with baskets of mail

Each colony soon established their own postal service, appointed postmasters, organized delivery and issued their own stamps. By 1840, there were six individual services. This continued until Federation in 1901. From then on, all postal services and telecommunications were operated by the Postmaster General’s Department. In 1974 these services were split, with the telecommunications service becoming Telecom, now Telstra. Postal services became the Australian Postal Corporation, now Australia Post.


The postal service in South Australia

The first postmaster of South Australia was Thomas Gilbert, appointed in 1836. Letters sent or received were charged one penny. As in other states, direct delivery was available to people in the capital. The first deliveries to those in Adelaide began in 1839. Those in outlying settlements were serviced by contractors on horseback or using mail coaches.

The first South Australian General Post Office was a small building built in 1851, on a site to the north of the current site on King William Street. Today’s grand GPO was opened in 1872, accompanied by much fanfare and celebrations. With its clock tower, it was the tallest building in Adelaide for many years. It played a significant role in receiving the first message along the Overland Telegraph Line in 1872.

First stamp of South Australia

The first stamp of South Australia

Adelaide was an important mail exchange for overseas mail destined for the eastern colonies of Australia that arrived by steamer at Port Adelaide and this role continued to grow in importance after the intercolonial rail line between Melbourne and Adelaide opened in 1887.

The first stamp of South Australia was issued on 1 January 1855.  In 1913 the stamps of South Australia were superseded by those of Australia.

So, with that background, let’s get on to Light Pass…

The Post Office at Light Pass

(Information taken from notes prepared by MJ Gooley 1983 in LightPass Revisited.)

The mail for Light Pass was originally delivered to the Post Office at Nuriootpa.  However, in 1905 Light Pass residents decided they wanted their own post office. But how to go about getting one?

The Rev. JJ Stolz wrote to the Postmaster General in Adelaide, asking about the procedure. They were sent an application form, which was signed by forty-five Light Pass residents and duly returned. The application said that the Strait Gate Lutheran School teacher, Gustav A. Keller, would be prepared to conduct the post office from his teacher’s residence. At that time the Strait Gate Lutheran schoolroom was attached to the residence. The mail (sorted on the kitchen table) would be handed to addressees who called at the post office or taken home by children attending the school.

The original Light Pass PO, in the schoolteacher's residence

The first Post Office was the schoolteacher’s residence. Mail was sorted on the kitchen table.

After a visit by the Postal Inspector in 1906, the facility was approved. It would serve not only 15 or 16 local families, but also Dr Scholz’s Willows Hospital and Kruschel’s chaff mill. The Truro-Tanunda Mail could be diverted between Stockwell and Nuriootpa, adding about one mile to its route and about 15 minutes travelling time. The new post office was opened on 1st May 1906. 



Following Procedures

The Mail Contractor, WB Burnett, received the following written instructions: “On arrival of the mail at 5.06 a.m. the P.M. will obtain the Road Bag and take from it any letters etc. for Light’s Pass. Other letters will be returned to the Bag together with any posted at Light’s Pass, the Bag resealed and handed back to the mail driver who will continue to Nuriootpa. At 11.45 a.m. the Mail Driver returns and the exchange of mail from the Road Bag is repeated, and the Mail Driver proceeds to Stockwell”.

Lutheran school

The door of the Lutheran school had a slot installed for posting mail.

When the ‘new’ Lutheran school was built in 1914 a box was attached to the back of the front door for posting letters via the teacher. Mail was still sorted in the schoolteacher’s residence. The brass mail slot still exists in this door, but the building is now used as the Strait Gate Church Hall.

Constant improvements

By 1924, mail was being delivered to residents by bicycle. In 1926 the volume was such that it was decided a car would be used. Additional services added to the original postal service over time included daily delivery of ‘The Advertiser’, payment of child endowment and age pensions, and the sale of postage stamps and magazines.

Changes – and a new post office…

Bertha Lowke, an early postmistress.

Bertha Lowke, postmistress from 1967-1977

In 1960, the original post office needed to be demolished to make way for the new Strait Gate Church. A public meeting was held, and it was decided to build the current postal facility, which opened in July 1960. The building is uniquely small, at about 3m x 2m. It holds 90 private mailboxes. A postmaster/mistress is responsible for sorting the mail.  Ernst Lowke was the first postmaster of the new post office, serving from 1960-1967. After he died, his wife Bertha took over the role for the next 10 years.

The tiny LP Post Office

The postal facility today still serves the community.

With the recent sale of the land on which it stands, there was concern about its future, but the new owners have said that the postal facility will remain. Good news for Light Pass residents, as it is much more than just a postal facility. It also houses the community notice board and is a meeting place for swapping everything from news to vegetables, and discussing all things of importance, such as the weather, the crops, happenings around town, and what the government should be doing!


First post office | National Museum of Australia (

The History Press | A short history of the Post Office

Adelaide General Post Office | Adelaidia (

Groves, Winifred Ruth. 1986, Light Pass revisited: a history of people, places and events at Light Pass, South Australia Light Pass Revisited Committee Light Pass, S. Aust