I've been here in Ophir for twenty-seven years now. I'm originally from Auckland.
I left in the 1980s and spent time in Queenstown - I worked in hospitality there - then three years at Uluru (Ayers Rock) and then the Whitsunday Islands in Australia. After leaving the Whitsundays, I had my own dressmaking shop in Airlie Beach in Queensland.
I'd tramped through the South Island before, but I'd never seen Ophir. My son married a local girl in Clyde, and when we visited - we were still living in Australia at the time - we went for a drive and found Ophir. We loved the fact it was still a tiny village - twenty-five people, sixty now - with a beautiful bridge, post office, gardens with lovely stone walls and little cottages surrounded by hollyhocks and roses, plus very friendly locals. The stuff of dreams. We bought an empty section and came back four years later. We built a house out of local schist rock. Owen, my partner for thirty-two years, was a wall and floor tiler by trade and was familiar with stone.
I started at the Post Office at the beginning of 2002, taking over from the previous postmistress, who had been there for twenty-seven years. I work three hours a day, 9am to noon every weekday. I've learned a lot about the local history. The village was once called Blacks - it was renamed Ophir, pronounced "Oafer," after the Biblical place where King Solomon got gold for a Jerusalem temple. The Post Office was built in 1886 of schist when gold mining was in full swing.
It's a beautiful building inside, with panels of kauri that came from the north and the Coromandel. We have the original safe, cash box, letter scales and most of the original fittings, including the fireplace. The chairs and clock are original, too, and there are lots of old bottles, bank cards and money boxes. It was a savings bank once.
A lot of the locals come in - it's very social. Visitors, too. They can frank their mail with the original Victorian-era date stamp. Franking means you cancel the stamp so other people can't steam it off and re-use it. That makes me "The Obliterator!" It's an old term - I think we're the last post office in New Zealand that uses an original franking machine. The one I use is from 1976, when the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (as it was known then) took over.
Locals collect their own mail. It's held in the original old boxes inside the Post Office. They often swap eggs, cabbage, silver beet and other produce, too. It can be bit of a problem if it's a big cabbage and it won't fit into the mailbox.
Central Otago is the driest part of the country, and it can be the coldest, too. The first year we were here from Queensland, it was minus 21.6 degrees. The Post Office had a coal fire in the old days, but you can't use coal now. I was told to wear an overcoat to stay warm in the winter, so it was a case of thick jackets, gloves, scarf. We complained about the cold. The girls at head office in Wellington sent us a blanket - as a joke! I now have two electric heaters that turn on auto before I get to work and off after I leave - such luxury!
Since moving to Ophir I've been on the Trans-Siberian Railway through China, Mongolia and Russia. In the past ten years I've been tramping in Nepal, cycling in Vietnam, and I've been to Argentina, Patagonia, Cuba, Spain, Portugal. My last trip was to Morocco during Ramadan. Tourists always like it when you've been where they come from.
You meet so many different people, mostly from cycling the Otago Central Rail Trail. We sell postcards as well as stamps. At one stage we sold old-fashioned sand soap - it was widely used in the fifties and sixties and is basically made of sand, very gritty. It was used to clean men's greasy overalls and hands. A Canadian girl came off the rail trail. She was too young to know what sand soap was and she asked me if she could wash her smalls with it. I said, "Yes - but your underwear might dissolve!"
I'm very social after work. Coffee meetings, gin club - we drink it, not play it! I go out with Elderberries once a month. It's a club for older people without partners. Owen passed away a year ago. There is always plenty going on - dinner parties, barbecues, films, functions at the local hall, annual pétanque. My garden keeps me busy. As well as flowers, there's silver beet, lettuce, tomatoes, rhubarb, chives and thornless blackberries.
I love the postmistress job, I really do. It's the best job I've ever had. When I retire, I hope to do a lot more walking, and travel to visit family and friends. I want to continue to learn Spanish. I love jigsaw puzzles, going to films and reading, and I'm sure I'll find a lot more to do.
This story appeared in the Ngahuru Autumn 2022 Edition of Shepherdess.
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