Karen Farrell speaks with Warwick Thompson, one of three brothers from the local Post Office, and talks letters, technology and what happens to all that misaddressed mail.
Postal systems have come a long way since 1809, when Isaac Nichols, ex-convict and the first Postmaster of NSW, commenced operating a postal service from his home in George Street, Sydney. Legend has it (or Wikipedia does) that Isaac’s role was to avert the pandemonium of people hastening onto ships the instant they arrived at Sydney ports, eager to retrieve their mail.
With today’s widening scope of business at the post office, it almost seems fantastical to consider that once the delivery of correspondence was carried out by an intermediary laboriously footing it from scribe to addressee.
The necessity of a Penny Black (adhesive stamp) is quickly disappearing, with conditions of physical mail being superseded by BPAY, e-parcel and the fiercely competitive email and social media expansion.
To continue operating in an electronic era, post offices around Australia are expanding business to provide services such as banking, foreign currency, advising on exchange rates, selling retail merchandise, completing identity checks and passport applications and advising on car insurance.
Warwick Thompson, with his brothers David and Bruce, are co-licensees of Tuncurry Post Office. They work full-time at the post office, from the original site on which their parents, Edward (Ted) and Judy Thompson, initially purchased the business in 1972.
FOCUS spoke to Warwick about how the humble post office is fast evolving.
How did three Thompson brothers come to be in the postal industry?
In 1972, Dad and Mum purchased Tuncurry Post Office, which was then a non-official post office. Dad was employed full-time by Australia Post, and Mum worked during the busier hours of the day. The post office was originally a house on the corner, which is where we grew up.
Sadly, Dad passed away in 1982 and Bruce, who was at university at the time, came home to run the post office with Mum. In 1994, when the post office changed direction, we became Tuncurry Licensed Post Office. The old post office was demolished, and a new building was constructed. We opened in March 1995.
Is the Post Office becoming a quasi newsagency? When we opened in 1995, we spoke to our local newsagent about the new direction the Post Office was taking. We endeavoured to stock our store with a range of items that were not in their shop, such as our cheaper range of cards.
Over time, the Post Office has supplied more items that are available through newsagents, so to a minor extent we are heading in that direction.
With the foray into digital services, the traditional role of the Post Office has radically changed. What has that meant?
Increased use of computerisation and email, along with the introduction of Billpay and computer banking has seen core business erode in recent years.
As with most successful businesses, the Post Office must continually review its direction and make adjustments to ensure survival. An example would be our stocking of computer-related products such as ink cartridges and blank discs, plus mobile phones.
What hasn’t changed is our focus on providing the best level of customer service.
There is nothing more beautiful that receiving a hand-written letter. Please tell me the art of letter writing is not yet dead? No, letter writing is not dead just yet; it may be a little sick, though! Cards are still very popular, but with the introduction of email, letter writing just isn’t as popular as it once was. Of course, I would love it to be different.
Now that Post Offices provide foreign currency, are you constantly being asked about the exchange rate? Yes, especially since the Australian dollar has been so strong. We have an excellent foreign currency service, which enables our customers to order foreign cash or travellers cheques, fee free. If the order is placed before midday, we can offer a next business day service.
Do you still supply collectable stamps and coins? Unfortunately, stamp collecting has gone by the wayside over recent years. Unless they’re really old stamps, there isn’t a great deal of money to be made on collecting stamps in the short term. We still stock a range of collectable stamps and albums, along with a small range of coins.
What’s the procedure for dealing with contraband or a suspect mail item? Very strict procedures have been put in place by Australia Post, which we adhere to (marked ‘Strictly Confidential’, so I can’t go into it).
Tell us about the Dead Letter Office? Anything that’s misaddressed, hasn’t been collected or says Return To Sender and does not have a return address goes to the Dead Letter Office. The Dead Letter Office has the authority to open these items in an endeavour to find the rightful owner. After a period of time, unclaimed items are routinely auctioned off.
You recently started doing passports; tell us about this? About two years ago we received our passport processing accreditation. This enables us to interview and process Australian passport applications. We also take passport photos. The passport office has very strict guidelines, which we must adhere to. Each year we must complete new accreditation that enables us to continue to process passports.
What sort of services do you provide for blind people? Australia Post provides its postal services free to the Blind Society. With all the documents that you have to authenticate, is it a pre-requisite to be a JP in your profession? No, it is not a pre-requisite for us to be a JP. In the past we found that being a JP severely affected our customer service, so a few years ago we decided not to renew our JP service.
Does your mum Judy still work in the business? Mum comes in when one of us is on leave or when it’s really busy in December and helps with stock and behind-the-scenes. It’s great having her in the shop. There’s also Rod (Bushie); he’s been with us since 1998 and is part of the furniture.