David Whitley joins the postman’s morning run on the Hawkesbury River
For most, puttering along the Hawkesbury River on a catamaran under typically Australian blue skies is all about pleasure. But for the crew on this vessel, there’s something more important than making sure the passengers get their morning coffee and a sandwich. Their prime concern is delivering the mail.
The Hawkesbury acts as Sydney’s northern boundary and is made up of several bushland and sandstone cliff-flanked arms, splintering across the landscape. Along the river lie a number of small settlements — on islands and isolated banks — without road or rail access. The only way to get in and out is by boat.
This presents a bit of a problem for Australia Post, which is contractually obliged to deliver mail to these settlements, but can’t exactly get there with normal vans. The solution, therefore, is to subcontract the work out — and the company employed to complete the route has decided to make it a profitable venture by taking passengers along for the ride.
Each of the seven drop-offs works slightly differently. Some communities use a rota system, whereby one resident comes to meet the boat, then takes the mail round to the other houses. Others have boxes at the wharf and everyone comes to pick up their letters and parcels individually. For one fisherman who lives deep in the mangroves, the mailbag is simply left hanging from a wooden pole in the middle of the river.
At every wharf, dogs wait patiently for the mail delivery — or, rather, they wait patiently for the home-baked cookies that the crew of the Riverboat Postman tend to bring along as treats. Rarely in the history of mail delivery can the canine threat have been so laughably harmless. The letters are handed over, the dogs get their cookie and a good old fussing, and the crew member jumps back on the catamaran ready for the next stop.
It takes a peculiar breed of person to live in these remote riverside hamlets. Many of the people who have chosen to set up home here are writers and artists who enjoy the peaceful isolation and gorgeous setting. Some, however, are considerably more eccentric.
The last stop on the round is Milsons Passage — or, as it prefers, the Republic of Milsons Passage. Dissatisfied with the service it gets from Australia’s several tiers of government, the locals have half-jokingly declared secession.
On the jetty, the ‘president’ sits in his throne, wearing a ceremonial sash and waving to the boat in a highly presidential manner. “Welcome to the tax haven for Australasia,” he bellows as the catamaran pulls up alongside.
By his side is a little white dog. “He’s a specially bred albino dingo who helps keep the sharks away,” comes the explanation. The sharks might be scared off, but the dog’s no match for a friendly mailman with a handful of cookies. And so, as the president takes possession of the bag, another round of the world’s most scenic mail run is complete.
Details: The Riverboat Postman (riverboatpostman.com.au) runs every weekday, with tickets costing $50.