Rock Valley. Monday 7.30am:
Oh no. Something's wrong.
Morrison is revving too hard as I approach the Rock Valley bridge. Momentarily disoriented, I didn't shift up into fourth after negotiating the tight left-hander before the Rock Valley Hall and post office. Loose change is vibrating out of the ashtray; the sunvisor has dropped down; my teeth rattle and my vision is blurred.
That's not what's wrong though.
I change gear, which eases the rev situation and brings my eyes back into focus. I do this without looking at the road ahead because my eyes are transfixed on the scene to my left. They're stuck to it like flies to fly paper.
My brain, which has always been slower than my eyes - "What are you looking at?" - also pops into gear. I realise what's wrong: where once stood the Rock Valley Hall and the Rock Valley Post Office now stands just the Rock Valley Hall. By itself. Alone.
Where once the pretty little Rock Valley Post Office squatted beside the hall, is now only a pile of rubble - burnt wood, scorched concrete, and tin as grubby and twisted as an Alan Jones speech. The Rock Valley PO is gone.
I pull over and flick the visor back up.
The Rock Valley Post Office, famous in many a popular magazine desperate for a story as a contender for smallest post office in NSW (or Australia or the world, depending on the level of desperation), is no more. Empire Vale and Rock Valley have always competed for the title of smallest post office. It was a rare case of "Mine is smaller than yours!"
Ever since I arrived in this area (a long time ago - before CSG mining, women mayors, and texting while you drive) the post office has been there. My five-year-old son thought it was a toy building just for kids and wouldn't allow us adults into it. (Not that more than two adults could fit…)
The post office has been the heart of Rock Valley since the early years of last century. A few years ago it relocated down the road a hundred metres or so. That was disconcerting enough. This time though, it's not relocated, it's gone.
A car pulls up behind me. Looking in my rear view mirror, I see the woman driver, a local, peering at the incinerated ruin. Sadness chases incredulity across her face. I feel the same way. The world is changing. Things we took for granted are disappearing - like the post office, local control, clean water and newspapers.
The woman turns and glares back at me because I'm staring at her in my rear view. (My brain has always been slower than my eyes.) She shakes her head, indicates, and drops the clutch.
Maybe the post office burning down is an omen.
Maybe it heralds the start of a new, darker era.
Maybe all mail will be digital. Every home has a computer and a 3D printer. Grandma sends a birthday email with an attachment for the printer - and hey presto! Socks.
Maybe the State Government will erect a permanent demountable post office. Or put a quarry there instead. Or a drilling rig with PO boxes - the Gas Valley PO.
I hope not. I hope that, like in 1940 and 1958, the Rock Valley people will rebuild their post office and continue the connection with local history. But maybe they should make it a bit smaller (so there's no doubt).
A horn blast makes me jump. A rusty Subaru speeds by and the driver, someone I don't recognise, smiles at me. Smiles? At this time of mourning?
Probably from Empire Vale.
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