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Silver City beauty

Monday, 8th July, 2019

The Broken Hill Post Office stands proud in Argent Street ... authorities initially baulked at building it because Broken Hill’s future was uncertain. PICTURE: Gavin Schmidt The Broken Hill Post Office stands proud in Argent Street ... authorities initially baulked at building it because Broken Hill’s future was uncertain. PICTURE: Gavin Schmidt

One of the most instantly recognisable buildings in the Silver City will undergo a half a million dollar facelift next year.

The Broken Hill Post Office will undergo significant renovations to restore the heritage-listed building to its magnificent best.

Work will include a new roof, repairs to the clock tower and new clock faces.

“We are very proud of this building, we understand its importance to the community and are committed to maintaining its splendour for locals and visitors alike,” Australian Post said.

The heritage value of the building was recognised in 2000 when it was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register, and then to the Australian Commonwealth Heritage List in 2011.

The original building was designed by James Barnet, who was chief of the Colonial Architect’s Office for 25 years up until 1890.

During that time, the department built 169 post and telegraph offices, 130 courthouses, 155 police stations, 110 lock-ups, 20 lighthouses and many other types of buildings.

His major works include the General Post Office building in Sydney and the Australian Museum.

Initially, the department was reluctant to approve the erection of a large post office in Broken Hill because of the uncertainty of the fledgling town’s future.

But Broken Hill rapidly expanded and by October 1888, the department accepted Broken Hill’s permanency and plans were drawn up.

Tender for the construction of the post office was finally let in early 1890, and the building was completed and opened for business in May 1892.

“Externally the most imposing feature is the tower, and this being built ... in the Queen Anne style, will be somewhat of a novelty in Broken Hill,” the Silver Age reported a year before construction.

“There is an immense amount of workmanship to be expended on it and, being 86 feet in height, it will be altogether an elaborate affair,” the newspaper said.

“There will be a balcony along the front of the structure and around the tower, whilst the whole building is encircled with a verandah excepting a few feet facing Chloride Street, which is left open to admit to the stairway.

“In the centre of the front to Argent Street will be a magnificent circular porch, and the central entrance door.

“It will be made of cedar with stained glass and panelled throughout.

“This door will lead to the public lobbies on their right hand of the Post Office, and on the left is the telegraph department.

“The front windows of the Post Office will be fitted with private letter boxes, and on the side facing Chloride Street there will be three delivery windows.” 

It appears from this description, and from a ground floor plan of 1900, that the original building was quite different in internal configuration to the present.

It had an additional single storey wing, which faced Chloride Street; this appears to have been removed in the 1970s when the adjacent telephone exchange was constructed.

Functionally, the building appears to have been split in half on an axis running parallel with Chloride Street, with the post office functions occurring in the half taking the street corner position, and the Telegraph Office having the other half with the narrow frontage to Argent Street.

Located almost in the middle of the building, running on an axis parallel with Argent Street there were two separate sets of stairs up to the first floor.

These stairs are no longer in place and the present timber stairs in the south-west corner of the smaller two-storey building are the only access to the first floor.

Given the decorative appearance of the balustrade and posts to these stairs this change appears to have occurred in the early twentieth century.

This may have been at the same time that part of the single storey wing on the Argent Street side was constructed for use as the Telegraph Office.

Some time later, possibly in the 1930s it was extended along Argent Street to its present size.

By the 1950s a bank of telephones was in place at the rear of an open lobby adjacent to the main two-storey building.

By then the central, main entrance had also been removed and replaced with an entrance from this telephone lobby, and another from an open porch area created at the corner of Argent and Chloride Streets.

The clock was installed in the tower in the early 1900s and opened in 1902.

Substantial alterations to the post office, including the bathroom fit-outs on the first floor, appear to have been undertaken in the early 1950s and the Post Office is quite comprehensively documented in a series of photographic images dated 1952 (held by the National Archives of Australia).

It has not been established if the first floor of the Post Office ever had a residential function but by the early 1950s it appears to have been entirely turned over to staff purposes and offices.

Plans for the renovations of the building are still in progress. Work is expetced to begin early next year.

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