Special delivery

It wasn't quite the social event first planned (COVID-19 restrictions, and all) but the centenary of the first official mail delivery was marked in fine style, and may herald the start of great things to come.

With the support of the Lismore Chamber of Commerce, a trial airmail flight officially endorsed by the then-Postmaster General's department flew from Lismore to Tenterfield on June 26, 1920, with a stopover in Casino to collect more mail.

The idea was to explore a more efficient way to connect Northern Rivers communities to Tenterfield and beyond that to Sydney, with all mail at that time travelling via the Tenterfield Railway Station.

Although the exercise was more a demonstration of things to come (the mail caught the same train in Tenterfield that it would have anyway, being driven up over the tortuous 'Casino Road'), it was an opportunity to connect the three communities.

Geoff Wotherspoon, based in Lismore, has a long history in documenting that initial flight and the circumstances around it, even publishing a well-researched book called Per Aerial Mail. Initial plans for large gatherings celebrating stops along the flight path were quashed by COVID-19 but, with an Australia Post commemorative envelope already in the pipeline, efforts instead shifted to creating a film of the re-enactment.

Enter Tenterfield videographer Peter Harris who has now documented the Tenterfield end of the trip which involved a Gypsy Moth piloted by Lismore Flying Club member Bill Finlen swooping onto the Sunnyside airfield on Friday afternoon, right on schedule after a few loops around town.

Mr Finlen has only just completed restoration of the plane which had last flown in 1935 before he acquired it. Not a fan of the cold and with a very open cockpit, Mr Finlen had hoped for fine weather and Tenterfield complied.

He was met by Rod Taylor's 1926 Dodge ute carrying Luke McDermott, great-grandson of Walter Lynn who, with brother James, were the licensed mail contractors for the area at the time of the initial flight.

In the mail bags were letters contained in the commemorative envelopes posted at Lismore and Casino, which then made their way to Tenterfield Railway Station for a photo opportunity of being loaded onto one of the Railway Museum's historic carriages.

The letters joined their Tenterfield counterparts at Tenterfield Post Office where manager Troy Gordon postmarked them for their return flight to Lismore the next morning.

One of the letters making a one-way trip contained a message from Richmond Valley mayor Robert Mustow to Tenterfield mayor Peter Petty. In it Mr Mustow expressed his wish that the deep-seeded connection of their two towns and the legacy of friendship been Casino and Tenterfield continues.

Fittingly-enough Mr Petty arrived on horseback to take delivery of the letter.

Australia Post printed 6000 of the commemorative envelopes and several thousand of those found their way onto the Gypsy Moth. Some of them will find their way back to Tenterfield after being offloaded into the normal mail system on their return to Lismore.

Others are heading to far corners of the earth, with letters from Mr McDermott's family destined for in-laws in Brazil and others going to England and other international destinations. A number of schools got involved (including local ones who received a special aerial hello from the Gypsy Moth before landing), not only posting letters but tracking the commemorative flight on a live tracking app.

Mr Harris said the documentary will now be fleshed out with footage from Lismore and Casino and with background stories from locations like Millrace and some of the schools involved. The Lismore-based grandchildren of Tenterfield tourism operator Kevin Santin were also filmed in 1920's garb, having written letters for the event in the vernacular of the time, making for interesting reading.

The eventual premiere of the documentary at the Tenterfield Cinema, when COVID-19 restrictions allow, will be a 1920's-themed celebratory day of dress-ups, live music, movie clips and the documentary running on repeat as a newsreel.

The premiere will hopefully also serve as the launch of a permanent tourist trail from Lismore to Tenterfield.

Mr Harris said business chambers from Lismore, Casino and Tenterfield are in the early stages of determining what that trail may look like, potentially incorporating an annual festival and/or a heritage mail trail highlighting history, tourism, paddock-to-plate opportunities and even gold-seeking spots.

He said the success of the venture will rely on the support of businesses and venues like art galleries and museums.

"There's a richness of possibility."