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The mail run

The mail run

An old white refrigerator stands with its back to the shrubs at the corner of the Great Northern Highway and Wanarra East Road to Perenjori. Decorated with a black stencilled camel and rusting bullet holes, it performs an important function in the lives of staff and volunteer workers at Charles Darwin Reserve. It is the roadside mail box. This particular mailbox is a legacy of the days when Whitewells Station operated as a tourist ranch. More conventional mail boxes in the region are made from cut down 44 gallon drums on steel stands.

The roadside mail box and the mailman, who also brings stores and supplies, have long been central to rural and outback communication and supply.

Norm and Jade de Grey have held the Australia Post mail run contract for the Thundelarra Mail Run since 2000, through their Wubin Trading Company.

In 2006 the twice weekly 7½ hour, 500 km run, undertaken in a fast, light 4WD utility, is mainly on the bitumen Great Northern Highway from Wubin to Paynes Find. The next leg to Burnerbinmah and Thundelarra Stations is on a dirt road.


Norm says his predecessors must have had a much more interesting run. They drove a variety of trucks laden with mailbags, stores and fuel to the stations and mining camps along the way, contending with flooded and boggy roads, breakdowns and flat tyres, gates and stock grids, and emergencies such as rushing to Dalwallinu Hospital a station manager’s wife who was giving birth, as Hugh Barnes did in the 1940s.

Before the Wubin–Paynes Find Road was cleared and graded in 1927 (as the precursor to the Great Northern Highway ), the road ended at Jibberding Station and was a camel track from there on.  It went to White Well then Pigeon Rock (Banawar Spring) on Whitewells Station (then part of Ninghan), Dead Horse Soak on Mt Gibson Station, then on to the government well and the Harp Mine near Paynes Crusoe Well on the Mt Gibson Common, then Yandanhoo Hill, Ninghan homestead, then via Warrdagga Rock to Coodingnow homestead and across to Paynes Find.    

The Postmaster General’s Department (the PMG) operated the Royal Mail before it became Australia Post.

Before motor vehicles, the mail was commonly delivered to pastoral stations and mining camps by camel.

Mick Perry did the weekly Wubin to Thundelarra mail run in 1928-29 after managing a hardware store at Ballidu, a wheat town near Wongan Hills. He drove the truck for Birch and King at fourpence a mile. His original truck was a Graham Bros, then a Rio. He delivered the mail, supplies and fuel. On the side, he became a partner on the Commodore mine by staking two old timers with food and fracture (explosives). They would unload the mail run goods when he arrived and use the truck to cart ore to the Warriedar Battery. They had a crushing of 60 ton from which he got more than his money back. Perry covered 8,400 miles in nine months.

'The road finished at Jibberding Station and a camel track went from there to Whitewells, in and out Mt Gibson (Paddy Connolly) Ninghan (T Barr Smith) Coodingnow (Gus Clinch)… Then Paynes Find late Saturday taking all day.  Then Fields Find where he stayed the night with the Boundys. Sunday to Rothsay, Warriedar then Thundelarra about mid day. Then Paynes Find Saturday night, back to Wubin Monday'. (Alex Palmer interview notes with Mick Perry, 12 October 1986)

The ‘Whitewells’ presumably referred to the White Well water reserve on the Great Northern Highway several kilometres south of Charles Darwin Reserve where people were camped from time to time. At the time, the White Wells leases were held by T.E. Barr Smith of Ninghan, and mail for workers at the White Wells outstation, known as 'Ninghan Farm' (now the homestead for Charles Darwin Reserve), would have been delivered to Ninghan. 

From 1928 to 1933 Terry McCullagh was the driver for F.A. Barratt, the Wubin-based mail delivery contractor for the Postmaster General’s Department.  He drove an A model Ford truck and carried stores as well as the official mail. His round included Jibberding Station (C.A.W. Russell’s now collapsed homestead on the Wubin side of the lakes), 'White Well Camp', Mt Gibson Prospector’s Camp, Mt Gibson Station (P.Connolly), Retaliation Gold Mine (Hayes and Cashen), Ninghan Station (Rutherford), Coodingnow (Gus Clinch), Paynes Find Post Office, then a loop through the east and north of Paynes Find before turning west to the Baron Rothschild Mine, Fields Find, Warriedar and Thundelarra.


The ‘White Well Camp’ was at the water reserve on the Wubin-Paynes Find road. It was part of the Whitewells pastoral leases held by T.E.Barr Smith of Ninghan.

The ‘Mt Gibson Prospector’s Camp’ was near the Paynes Crusoe Well and Harp Mine, on the present access road to Mt Gibson.  

Retaliation Gold Mine’ was on the goldfield in the hills in the north of Whitewells Station, about ten kilometres in from the main road via Christmas Bore. The mail and stores were left at the turnoff on the new Wubin-Paynes Find road which had been aligned in 1927 and became the Great Northern Highway. Link to Gt N Hwy

Frank Buck had 'an Oil and Fuel shop and was at one time a mail contractor for the Paynes Find run’. Prepared to Pioneer Wubin Progress Incorported, 2005. smaller font

Hugh Barnes drove the mail truck and general transport trucks for his father Eric’s Wubin Transport Service, from 1946 to 1953.  He was 16, having just finished high school in Perth when he started.


The first truck was a D30 International 3 ton semi; a 5 ton Commer; a Chev Maple Leaf; a Diamond T open cab semi.

His stops out from Wubin were at the Jibberding Post Office, then the Rabbit Proof Fence where there were mail boxes on the Jibberding Reserve for farmers in the area, then Jibberding Station, and then the White Well where there was a fence post cutters’ camp 'if someone was there'. There was nobody living at Whitewells homestead in those days.

Hugh recalls the endless opening and closing of gates where the road crossed station fences.

The first gate was at the Rabbit Proof Fence, the second at Jibberding Station south boundary, the third at Jibberding Station north boundary; the next stop was at the 42 [miles from Wubin] gate on Mt Gibson; the Mt Gibson turnoff was at the 45 mile – the 215 mile peg.  There was a track cut by prospectors. They always had the billy boiling: Chook Wilson, Bill Lawson, Mark Dimond. That’s where we had our first cup of tea. We’d unload the Mt Gibson stuff and prospectors stores onto a ramp. The next gate was at the Mt Gibson-Ninghan boundary. The next stop was at the Whitewells-Retaliation turnoff. 

We drove into Ninghan where they had a store. Passers-by could buy things. It was all destroyed in a fire. I was pulling up with a load of chaff, we tried to stop the fire burning the tank stand. The fire started on the store, a petrol drum ignited, the bung flew out and a big squirt of petrol shot across the whole show.

We did general carting. A semi load of beer and a semi load of elignite to Paynes Find once a week, I still don’t know which was most  potent. Beer was rationed after the war, the pub would run out.  Warm beer was just a fighting brew. As soon as the truck pulled up they’d be into a warm keg. Then I used to sit a wheat bag of ice on one of the wooden kegs. That slowed the fighting down.

We’d start loading on at 6 a.m. Saturday, leave at 9, then someone would send a telegrm over the Meekatharra radio for a last minute drum of fuel – it was a nuisance.  We had an all-wave radio, so we used it to intercept the call earlier. Hugh Barnes interviews, C.Nicholson 2005-2007


Norm de Grey

Every Tuesday and Friday I do the run from Wubin to Burnerbinmah via Paynes Find and come back through Thundelarra – 7½ hour round trip, back at Wubin at 5.30 in time to connect with the courier to take the mail on to Perth that night. Wubin to Paynes Find is a  2-hour drive on the bitumen at 110 [110km/h is the legal speed limit]. I leave at 10 am, drop the mail in the drum at the Mt Gibson turnoff and the Camel Fridge at the Perenjori turnoff, stop for a 20 minute cuppa break at Ninghan, and get to Paynes Find at 12.30 pm for a 30 minute lunch break. I’m on to my second Holden Rodeo 3-litre diesel 4WD twin cab utility; the first has done 350,000 and we still use it as our back-up and private vehicle. We need the 4WD for the dirt section – Paynes Find, Burnerbinmah Thundelarra and back to the highway. Norm de Grey 30 June 2006, interview by C.Nicholson