The Waikouaiti Post Office was built in 1907 out of double brick, at the bottom of a hill, in a swamp. The ground on which it was built was known to flood, and this is indicated by a line on the original plans. The foundations are huge and must have cost a small fortune to put in, but they have done a good job and, more than 100 years later, there are no cracks in the main building.
In the beginning, telegraph and Morse code was used to connect with the outside world, later, with the advent of the telephone, a manual exchange was installed. The exchange provided jobs for local people, and several have told us experiences of working there.
Eventually the manual exchange was dismantled and replaced by an automatic exchange that was built in Beach Street. To this day, however, what looks like many kilometres of telephone wires lie under the floor of the room where the manual exchange once was.
We live and work in the Waikouaiti Old Post Office, but we are not the only people to have done so. I am informed by an elderly resident that the first Post Master lived here with his wife and five children. Quite how all of them managed to fit in the two small bedrooms, living room and kitchen, I find hard to comprehend.
The Post Office was closed down in 1989, and we bought it later in that year, after it had been vacant for several months. In one way, the closure of the Post Office ensured its survival. Evidently there were plans to build a new Post Office at the top of the hill where it would have been handier to the shops and medical centre. Land was purchased for this, and the Old Post Office would have been demolished had the new one been built.
About one year after we bought the Post Office, we opened it as a gallery for us to sell our own work. We ran this five and a half days a week for several years and derived most of our income from it. We made some good friends as a result of having our door open to the public, and many cups of tea were consumed around our kitchen table.
Over time our art work changed, and more of the space that had been taken up by the gallery area was needed to house an etching press and other print making and painting equipment. When Peter began potting, it was only a matter of time before the gallery area had to go.
These days our art work is mainly sold in Dunedin, and we use the building as our studio and as our home. We do open our studio to the public on the first weekend of every month. It is a chance for people to look at work in progress, some may even have a go making something out of clay, and we try to keep a reasonable amount of our artwork on display here too.
In September 2007, we had the joy of being part of a celebration to mark this building's 100th birthday. Many of the local people turned up for the fun, as well as some from further away.
New Zealand Post Kindly paid for our local bakery to make and ice a special cake, and the Community Board gave funding towards an exhibition of memorabilia and photographs that was held at the local library to mark the event. Friends helped with giving the front of the building a much needed clean and coat of paint, and many people generously gave of time and encouragement.