By Paul Dykes
Long-forgotten post offices that have helped stamp the character of the Western Bay since 1859 have been brought back into the spotlight in a new book.
Tauranga Mails, by Rob Carlyon from Otumoetai and Dave Shand from Welcome Bay, traces the history of 56 post offices through to the eventual demise of all but 11 of them.
Their two-year labour was a marriage of skills - Mr Shand, 72, knew much of the history and Mr Carlyon, 74, had to extract it to create a definitive 172-page guide.
"Getting it out of his head was the hard bit," Mr Carlyon joked, handing over the first official copy yesterday to Jinty Rorke, New Zealand librarian at Tauranga Library.
The two men are members of the Tauranga & District Stamp Club and came up with the idea after Mr Shand revealed he had been collecting postal cancels (franked stamps) from the Tauranga postal district and didn't know what he should do with them.
"I gathered a polite answer was in order, so I suggested we write a book," Mr Carlyon recalls.
"I started writing, but soon stopped. I found I wanted to know why all these post offices had been needed, where they had been located, how mail was distributed, who was involved, what were their histories, why did few survive.
"Rather than just create a long list, I wanted to see what happened to them."
The placement of post offices inevitably led to the very formation of Tauranga and other Bay of Plenty settlements.
Mr Shand said many of the post offices disappeared after the rural delivery service started in 1922, and the 1987 formation of the state-owned enterprises - Telecom, Postbank and NZ Post - killed off others.
"In many ways, it's a sad book," Mr Carlyon added.
"It's the end of an era - nobody likes what happened after corporatisation."
The first reference to Tauranga having a post office indicates it was at the Mission Station in 1857.
The first overland mail from Auckland reached Tauranga on December 5 1859, and when the first delivery arrived from Napier in 1873 a general half-day holiday was declared.
At that time, neither Te Puke nor Katikati was reachable by road from Tauranga.
The 56 post offices are entered in the order in which they opened.
Unexpected entries include Motiti Island, the Tauranga Military Camp in World War 2, and Muir's Reef, the only commercially operated gold mine in the Bay of Plenty.
Other names were located only after a diligent search of old maps.
The most recent entry is Palm Beach.
"This is a great addition to our local history collection," Mrs Rorke said.
"It is a field no one has touched on before, and a lot of the information could have been lost."
She said the importance of the post office in society was evident in the way the historic building in Willow St, Tauranga, was always known as the "Post Office" despite housing various government departments, the court and the county council.
The book includes a fold-out map of the region and 20 colour pages of pictures of post offices and rare cancelled stamps from long-forgotten postal districts.