Wheoh: rebuilding in the Warrumbungles after bushfire: 'mail box' 22th - 26th August 2013

My old friend Jim Barton (who lives in London) kept a post box in town for his annual sojourns in the Warrumbungles. After the fire we found the key to it in the ash of the house. When I went to pick up his mail, the post box wouldn't open. The Postmaster handed me a bundle of Jim's mail and said that the box had been cancelled. "We can deliver to you now," he said.

I can't remember why I made a mail box so many years ago. In those days there was no possibility of any mail delivery. The road out was unsealed with several creek crossings that would close it after heavy rain. Wheoh doesn't have any road frontage. Nevertheless, I was fond of my mail box hanging on the road fence. I liked its unobtrusive claim to occupation - I'm here but you won't find me. It was made of a rusty rectangular tin with a lid on a wire hinge with the property name Wheoh barely discernible. Spiders lived in it and friends sometimes left me notes.

Somehow the box survived 30+ years. A month ago the BlazeAid folk hard-wired it to the new fence when they rebuilt Trevor and Julie's road-side boundary. But they'd put it where the postman couldn't get to it without getting out of his car.

Last week a letter arrived for me (about postal voting) and with it was a note from the postman:

G'day. Could you pls place a LRG mail box where I have put the stick into ground THX. Nice and high I'm in a 4 x 4.

So, I set about making a new mail box. Maybe I've driven too many country miles with nothing to do but absorb fencing techniques and mail box styles, but I'm of the opinion that the mail box is the mirror of the owner's inner being. Pretentiously, I wanted a mail box that spoke of ingenious use of materials. Understatement and keeping the postman happy was a given.

First step was to stare for a long time at my treasured junk pile. This is a pile of iron and steel that I've collected over half a lifetime. It's the stuff left over after clearing sales that no one wants; mainly discarded pieces of old horse-drawn agricultural machinery. Many years ago, my nephew, Andrew Lemann, made a wonderful Quixotic sculpture from it. It still hangs from a tree. The junk pile suffered in the fire by taking on a bit of surface rust and sinking a bit further into the ground. One of my first actions a couple of weeks ago had been to restack and mentally catalogue it all for just such a purpose as this.

An old drive shaft with a rust-frozen universal joint with bolt holes leapt out as an ideal stand for the mail box. It fitted perfectly into a large tubular flanged shaft with the name LEE COURTNEY cast into it.

The box itself came from a horse-drawn seed potato hopper. I was able to undo the long bolts that held it onto a simple but quite elegant rectangular cast iron opening surround. The postman had written LRG so the hopper was extended with steel from a winnowing fan. A fairly ornate cast iron flue lid fitted perfectly over the opening and was easy to hinge. My only real ingenuity was to use a length of wire to make a spring that held the lid open by means of a small cast iron toggle attached to the hopper and guided by a can opener.

It took me all day to put this mail box together but it prompted me to get out my tools and equipment. I even had to bolt Bonnie's vice to a tree stump. More importantly, it made me crave a level surface on which to work. Consequently, I'm into gear now and levelling some ground for a workshop and a place to set up the saw mill - and hopefully - a work bench of some sort.

Post script: A recent first for me was the letter I wrote to the Tenterfield quilters. It was composed on my laptop and then transcribed from screen to paper by fountain pen. It was an attempt to make the letter feel more genuine and heartfelt. While there is always the tendancy for dead media to pretend to be art, it would be a real treat to receive an actual letter in my mail box. I promise to respond artlessly - by hand.