Norman Richardson’s Amazing Mail Career

From Waler Data Base @ FaceBook. Image is from The Mail (Adelaide) 29th November 1932.

An astonishing and lengthy career, a true pioneer.

Mail coach owner and driver extraordinaire – Norman Richardson

Image: Norman Alexander Richardson, mail contractor and pastoralist, in the far north and north west of South Australia. C1870. Photo by S. Solomon. State Library S.A

A great South Australian pioneer, Norman Richardson held mail contracts probably the longest of anyone in Australia – over 42 years – from age 20 until age 62, said to be the biggest mail contractor in South Australia for a good while (possibly outdone by Hill & Co? but hey who’s arguing). He covered the toughest country of all and was always on time despite the usual coaching mishaps at times, and never lost his temper, and was never robbed once!

Norman Alexander Richardson, mail contractor and pastoralist, in the far north and north west of South Australia. Circa 1870

Images from State Library S.A: ‘Mail coach service Port Augusta to…’; Royal mail leaving Tarcoola c. 1900.’ State Library S.A. if there had been rain (rare) horses could be taken. Horses and mules in this hitch. Usually, mules did this run.

Born in North Adelaide, Norman got a job at age 14 on his brother’s station near Streaky Bay. He invested his wages in five horses and within a month had 21 more. He took some sheep to Port Augusta and saw job opportunities so moved there, and took a job delivering 300 tons of equipment to the Overland Telegraph crews of Barrow Creek and Oodnadatta, with 200 camels. In 1876 Norman got his first mail contract – running north west of Port Augusta – Yardea to Elizabeth Creek. His first run was done on horseback, then he got a coach (vehicle anyway) for the second and didn’t look back. He’d also gained a lot of cartage work for the Telegraph Dept. and became a good employer. His mail runs quickly grew, covering an incredible range of the toughest country in Australia – all over the driest state, South Australia including to Andamooka where the Post Office was a dug-out, to Arltunga in the N.T., Coolgardie in W.A. and most places between. He employed several Aboriginal people as coach drivers and to care for his stock at changing places, a good living, enabling them to stay on their own country. He also employed several Afghan cameleers in S.A., N.T. and W.A.

Images: The Mail (Adelaide) 29th November 1932; ‘The Post Office and the Mail Coach. 1898.’ State Library S.A. (Richardson had the mail contract Oodnadatta to Arltunga); The Register (Adelaide), 19th November, 1907; ‘Royal Mail about to leave Oodnadatta, South Australia, for Arltunga, Northern Territory, photographed by Herbert Basedow, 1903.’ National Museum of Australia

As his business grew, he was able to buy stations – being the first owner of Roxby Downs for example. Others included Mulga Well, Mahanews, Arcoona, Bon Bon and The Pines. Undoolya Station for a time. Sensibly, when he found horses couldn’t handle some of the tough mail stages due to no water or feed, nor be kept in some country for staging, he turned to camels and mules for these runs. He bred his own mules and did much to stop the prejudice against them as he proved how invaluable they were in tough country. Equally he promoted donkeys, taking good ones for breeding and work to Western Australia too (claimed to be the first working donkeys on the Fremantle wharves; and were the first to Cue, Mt Magnet etc – he took big mobs of top class donkeys to W.A.).

Images: A mail coach (waggonette) leaving Port Augusta for Tarcoola, six mules, Norman Richardson driving, he also bred the mules. This photo was in the Chronicle (Adelaide), 16th April 1904; ‘Mail coach at Tarcoola, South Australia, September 1914 / Alexander Lorimer Kennedy.’ National Library of Australia Mules; The Mail, 9th July, 1927; ‘our camels [Oodnadatta Alice Springs mail, with passenger included] [transparency]: part of lantern slide lecture collection, 1926 / Miss Colley.’ National Library of Australia

He used horses where the country suited them. Also bred handy racehorses and was President of the Flinders and Port Augusta Jockey Club for years. He knew horses, particularly utility horses – he bred and bought and sold top quality utility horses. His last big buy of horses was 1,040 from Strangways in the early 1920’s. He owned and bred thousands of horses, mules, donkeys and camels over his working life, for his mail contract runs. As rail was late being extended to many of the places where his mail contracts went, he kept operating years after most mail coaches finished. Finally rail and motors wound him up too.

'Mob of horses at Yardea. C. 1902.' State Library S.A.
‘Mob of horses at Yardea. C. 1902.’ State Library S.A. Very likely mail contract horses (coach horses) to be run together like this and in prime nick. This was a major base for Richardson. Good hay was grown at Yardea for horse feed, and work horses, camels and bullocks all used there for agriculture, hauling wool etc. Norman Richardson ran the mail to and here from 1876 for decades.

Images: ‘Royal Mail from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs. The driver is Larry O’Toole…’ Territory Stories ; The Mail (Adelaide) 29th November 1932

Over the years he was interviewed several times and his lively tales of days on the track were reprinted in several newspapers (such as The Register (Adelaide), 19th November, 1907 shown below). Incredible stories! He was happily married, had seven children, and was twice Mayor of Port Augusta too. Norman (as he was always known) died in 1941 aged 85, having moved back to Adelaide in his old age. The pioneer of many overland routes and a welcome sight for many in remote places. He’s covered in some books on pioneers, however Norman Richardson truly deserves a book himself.

Posted by Enoch Waler

Waler gelding purpose bred to help educate and advocate for Walers, in person and via Facebook and Instagram.