Folio: Lloyd Shield

Folio: Lloyd Shield

Victoria’s Colonial Post Offices – A Photographic Study of Surviving 19th Century Post Offices in Victoria, Australia.

A brief historical perspective (Jenny Colman)

In 1851 Edward Hargreaves announced the discovery of gold in New South Wales. The burghers of Melbourne were so disturbed by an exodus of fortune hunters from Victoria that they announced a reward to anyone who could find a payable gold field within 200 miles of Melbourne. A fortnight after Separation (1 July 1851), two separate discoveries of Victorian gold were proclaimed. 

The reverberations of these discoveries continued to be felt for over 50 years, and many townships which owed their initial existence to the precious metal went on to become major supply centres for outlying communities, as the gold was worked out and the land opened up for farming. Postal services soon followed.

Initially housed in rude structures, often part of an existing business, the post offices provided an important service to the townships and monies were soon spent on suitable permanent buildings which reflected the status of the town. 

Over 2,000 postal services were established in Victoria before the end of the 19th century. Some existed only for a short time, some were replaced by other, larger, offices, and a number simply died out as people moved away. Of the 1,615 postal services which were operating on 1 January 1901, fewer than 300 of them are still functioning today. 

During the heyday of Victoria’s gold rushes, substantial amounts of money were invested in impressive public buildings, including post offices. Over the past 120 years, first the P.M.G., and then Australia Post, have divested themselves of many of their former post offices.A small number of the just over 100 buildings photographed for this project still perform their original function, others now serve different businesses or have been converted into private dwellings. Sadly, fewer than 20 have any heritage overlay.

The project (Lloyd Shield)

The original vision was modest: to practise using a large format (LF) camera. The choice of subject was easy. Flemington Post Office, standing majestically since 1890 on an acutely angled street corner nearby. An iconic post office, it was the flagship for Victoria in the 1982 Historic Post Office series of 7 stamps. The former Fitzroy North Post Office was the obvious next subject. The tipping point was reached, and the project was conceived: To photograph post offices in Victoria built during the reign of Queen Victoria.

The naive assumption was that there would be only 20 or 30 survivors. However, a pattern emerged as, progressively, the heritage listed icons were photographed. Large format photography is visually conspicuous, requiring a tripod, a large camera, in this case a beautiful Cherrywood and brass-plated metal instrument, with the photographer disappearing from time to time under a dark cloth. This spectacle attracts attention from passers-by, commonly on the obverse side of middle age, and whose fathers or grandfathers almost invariably had one of those devices. The benefit from this connection with spectators was that they would often ask a question: “Have you seen the old post office in town x or suburb y’’? Soon the tally became 70. 

Serendipitously I was put in contact with Jenny Colman, a maven of Victoria’s postal service history, and the number to photograph grew to over 100. Built by the end of the 19thcentury, and primarily used as a post office, were the only inclusion criteria initially but exceptions were granted. Jack River (1909) was included as a rare example of a surviving small regional post office. Others were excluded if modernisation of the façade obscured the original personality of the building. 

The images were not meant to be environmental portraits or streetscapes. They are portraits of the architectural personality of some of the finest pieces of 19th century public infrastructure in Victoria.

The method of capture, the full frame contact printing retaining the imprint of the film holder as a border, and the toning technique, were used not to replicate 19th century images but to create the feel of an earlier time; to establish, in a contemporary image, a connection with the era when the subject was youthful.

Using a LF camera and 4 x 5 inch sheet film dictated many obvious and some less obvious aspects of the final product. The time-consuming nature of LF photography meant that shooting dozens of images from multiple photographic points of view was not practical. The imperfections that sometimes plague LF photography were both a strength and a weakness. Either way a unique image was created. The aim was to capture the essence of the subject. 

No attempt has been made to enhance environmental detail. At all stages the emphasis has been on the architectural and aesthetic aspects of the built form. Modern streetscape detritus, such as cars, overhead wires and signs, was eliminated from the frame as much as possible at capture. Inevitably there were failures. A downside to contact printing full frame has been the inclusion of unnecessary visual elements, such as expanses of road and sky. Availability of a greater selection of lenses may have helped. But the intended subject, the post office, always dominates.

This project was an interesting journey of discovery and fulfilment: More experience in the pitfalls of LF photography, visiting unfamiliar Victorian country towns, and working with Jenny Colman.

The reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) coincided with literally a golden era in the Colony of Victoria. The structural remnants of this period are an outstanding legacy of architectural and building history, no better exemplified by Victoria’s remaining 19thcentury post offices. 

Flemington: Opened 1890. 4 x 5 thiocarbamide toned silver gelatin contact print (scanned) 2007.
Fitzroy North: Constructed 1888. Official PO 1908. 4 x 5 thiocarbamide toned silver gelatin contact print (scanned) 2007.
Ballarat: Opened 1865. 4 x 5 thiocarbamide toned silver gelatin contact print (scanned) 2012.
Bendigo: 2012. 4 x 5 silver gelatin, thiocarbamide toned contact print (scanned). Opened 1887.
Camperdown: 2007. 4 x 5 silver gelatin, thiocarbamide toned contact print (scanned). Opened 1863.
Carisbrook: 2008. 4 x 5 silver gelatin, thiocarbamide toned contact print (scanned). Opened 1888
Harrow: 2008. 4 x 5 silver gelatin, thiocarbamide toned contact print (scanned). Opened 1885
Jack River: 2014. 4 x 5 silver gelatin, thiocarbamide toned contact print (scanned). Opened 1909.
Clunes: 2008. 4 x 5 silver gelatin, thiocarbamide toned contact print (scanned). Opened 1879.
Daylesford: 2008. 4 x 5 silver gelatin, thiocarbamide toned contact print (scanned). Opened 1868.
Traralgon: 2012. 4 x 5 silver gelatin, thiocarbamide toned contact print (scanned). Opened 1887.
Port Fairy: 2007. 4 x 5 silver gelatin, thiocarbamide toned contact print (scanned). Opened 1881.

Main photograph above: Echuca: 2011. 4 x 5 silver gelatin, thiocarbamide toned contact print (scanned). Opened 1879.

Lloyd Shield is a Melbourne-based photographer who commenced serious photography in 2000 when he saw the potential for this to be a fulfilling retirement activity. 

He completed an Advanced Diploma of Photography in 2005 and it was during this 4 year part time exercise that he was introduced to the magic of large format photography and darkroom printing.

Architectural and industrial heritage, the urban landscape and the natural environment have evolved as his almost exclusive subjects.  

He enjoys the connection and contemplation afforded by large format photography and traditional darkroom printing and has also found satisfaction in collecting and refurbishing or restoring pre-1900 large format cameras. Construction of wooden lens or lens-less large format cameras has been an enjoyable complementary activity.

He is actively involved with and has benefitted greatly from the companionship and sharing ethos of the large format photography community in Victoria.

Lloyd Shield.

Jenny Colman has had a long-standing interest in and detailed knowledge of Victoria’s colonial era postal service history. She was Secretary of the Geelong Philatelic Society from 2011 to 2020.

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Lloyd Shield is a Melbourne based photographer.

There are 6 comments for this article
    • Lloyd Shield at 10:49 pm

      Thanks for your comment David. But more importantly, thank you for your outstanding mentorship within the large format community.

  1. Keith Mallett at 1:15 am

    A magnificently carried out project Lloyd! Congratulations. The Post Office really was once the heart of a settlement or town and that civic pride was usually displayed in elegant and distinctive architecture — as you so beautifully illustrate. Thank you for sharing your inspiring quest.

    • Lloyd Shield at 10:58 pm

      Thanks Keith. Your use of the term ‘quest’ is quite apt. As noted in the text, Flemington was my starting point but purely as a convenient, photogenic subject for learning how to use a large format camera. It could easily have stopped there, but it was the realisation that there was likely to be a bigger picture to be explored, that initiated the project. One hundred post offices later…….

  2. Gary+Sauer-Thompson at 3:02 am

    This is a stunning folio. Lloyd. Congratulations. Architectural heritage is so important. It is part of our history and cultural memory as a nation.

    Even though I live in South Australia I knew some of the regional post office buildings in Victoria: –eg., Bendigo, Ballarat, Clunes, Daylseford and Port Fairy. The folio is beautifully done and I just love the way that it refers back to the 19th century colonial, urban photographers and the way they approached photographing the significant and important buildings of that time.

    Do keep working on this project. One day these building may not exist.

    • Lloyd Shield at 11:15 pm

      Thanks for the generous comment Gary. Only about 11% of the structures I photographed are wooden, indicating not unexpectedly that most have disappeared. But of even the grander buildings only a small percentage have some heritage protection. Horsham is an example of losing a grand building to a nondescript replacement. Lloyd

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