The Magic of our postal system

12 09 2011

You know, after eleven years as a mail order business, the fact that the postal system works 99.9% of the time still amazes me.  It seems like magic right out of Harry Potter that I can pop something into the little red or yellow box, and some time later, it arrives at a totally different place where it is needed or wanted.  The faith we have in this process is astounding and the system behind it, which makes the process so effective should be lauded.  I recently had a son looking for work who looked at the Australia Post website.  The description of the mail sorters is a must read and indeed, I think the unspoken criteria is experience as a junior wizard.

Our faith in the system is so great that it is news-worthy when the system breaks down.  Every six months or so and as recently as last week or the one before it, we heard of a postal worker who was stealing mail.  This breach of faith seems so great that it must be widely reported and commented on.  I find it interesting and a bit sad, but not exceptional.  The system, as wonderful and reliable as it is, is not infalliable.  There are humans at every part of it, sender, sorter, deliverer and receiver and all play a part in the system, creating room for human error and failings.

As a long term mail order business, I have seen a lot of examples of “mail failure”.  About nine years ago, my first experience with the system failing on a grand scale, there was an elderly postal worker in the Sydney area who, as he neared retirement could not finish his run every day, so rather than acknowledge his weakness, hoarded his mail in his garage. About five years ago a mail truck was involved in a major accident on the Hume Highway damaging and losing a significant amount of mail.  About six years ago I was effected by another mail sorter in one of the large Metropolitan sorting centres pocketing mail that looked interesting and about three years ago I had about 200 monthly clubs in the local post box when some young ones decided to see what happened when you put multiple fireworks in the big red box.  Needless to say what ever happened it was not good for the mail.  That same box was set on fire about a year later, again apparently for sport.  We have seen delays for major natural disasters such as floods and fires.  As someone who posts large numbers of items and is using the postal system every day of the year, you see a lot.  Most of the time when something happens, Australia Post let you know and you get on with replacing it.  That is fine, you know what happened and your faith remains firm that it is the exception rather than the rule.  I also wonder about the packages that take a magical myster tour and show up months after they were sent, but at least they show up – explicably.  Sometimes a package goes into the system inexplicably never to be seen again.  I don’t like those.  They confuse me and make me question my faith in the magic of the system.

But it is when there are failures at the receivers end I don’t quite know how to react.  Sometimes mail gets stolen from letter boxes or delivered to the wrong address suburbs away.  We usually work this out.  I had one customer who wanted to exchange an item – no problem – but she took six months to send it to me and I replaced it within a week. Months on she only remembers it took nearly seven months to get her item. Amusing, a bit frustrating, but explicable.  This year I have had one address in WA that the package keeps getting returned to me.  It is like a long distance game of ping pong.  Does the person have a neighbour or relative that does not want the goods to arrive?  Is the address so obscure no one can find it?  Am I losing the plot?  Why is this happening.  At the other end of human behaviour over the years I have had two customers who repeatedly claimed that the goods did not arrive, but were not telling the truth.  In both cases Australia Post got their fraud people involved in that.

In all these cases I have cited, it is the exception rather than the rule.  A handful of parcels do not arrive at the expected time each year.  Most of the time they show up a bit delayed, no doubt with a story, should they be able to talk.  And every time something very odd happens, the system is the solution.  In the events of catastrophe I described above such as fire works and truck accidents, Australi Post have notified me of the event.  When ever there are delays or questionable activities, my post office rings the local post office, sometimes tracking all the way through the mail centres that the item should have transited, almost always getting to the local postal worker on your street or post office.  What these guys know about us is scary.  Many of them have been delivering mail to the same addresses for years and remarkably can remember whether a package was delivered last week or not.  It proves that the system is not magic, but in fact a labyrinth of individuals, the vast majority of whom take their job seriously and do it well.  They also don’t like it when the system is blamed for other human frailties such as dishonesty or theft.

Obviously with increased tracking and technology, finding the wandering and delayed should be easier, however most customers do not choose a trackable option.  Probably because our faith in the system is so great.  I should insist on certified mail in a lot of examples but it adds to the cost of delivery and I try to keep that down.  This is despite the cost of mailing something generally being less than the cost of fuel and parking if you were to drive to the local shops to collect it.

I love our postal system.  I love that I can still feel awe when I pop something in the post.  And I love that when things go wrong, 99.99% of the time I can explain it.  I now need to go back to my game of Ping Pong.





4 responses

12 09 2011
Lindi Jarman

I agree with you wholeheartedly! Our mail system is the best in the world, and of all the mail I have been either sender or receiver, a small handful has only ever gone astray. Of that handful, I can only recall 2 disappearing totally, and one of those (an ebay purchase), I suspect the sender simply forgot to post it, then was covering herself.

12 09 2011
Joy Vale

Cecile, I’ve read this post with a lot of interest. Myself, I can honestly say I’ve never had anything go astray in our postal system. Maybe a tad late arriving, but it has always arrived (and I live a small coastal town where our mail arrives at the local PO via V-Line tourist buses!). Over the past 5 years or so I have been in a number of ATC and Postcard swaps with international members – I have always received mine. A number of participants in the UK have had trouble with not receiving cards, but none of mine have gone missing! I think it has a lot to do with how we address the mail and if we use correct postal codes. When I take the postcards to my local PO to be sent ‘naked’ the girls there take great care in how they stamp them, and the Postie himself is very careful when delivering my cards – if the weather is not very clear, he will pop it under my front door. Parcels are always delivered separately and he will knock, even if it doesn’t need a signature. With our ‘cyber’ society I hope we never loose our postal system and our wonderful posties.

12 09 2011

I so entirely agree. Most people take the postal service for granted, never having trouble at all. I just find it amazing. For a number of years now, I have been averaging about 1000 items a month into the post, less now that I have limited my clubs and the very very few items that have been unaccounted for is remarkable. If something goes wrong it is almost always explained. With the exception of two cases of fraud and something very odd going on now, we always find the parcel some how. It is not always in good condition (ala the fireworks incident – that was not a good day) and sometimes the addressing is to blame (that is the human problem at my end) but I have always had great support from the post offices all around Australia. And my local ladies are awesome. They are like blood hounds on the end of the phone chasing late parcels when that happens. It really is one of the wonders of the world. I could not function without it.

23 10 2011
qldmaggieMargaret Price

Many years ago my late husband was amail deliverer in Victoria. He rode a bbicycle ( in the early days twice a day over the same route). At one stage money was going missing from birthday cards to children, and for a while every postman from that office was under suspicion, UNTIL the authorities stepped in and caught the bad man ( who incidentally was one of the least suspected of the crime)
These days in Queensland I am very fortunate that when I get a parcel or package too big for my mail box, my delivery lady opens the gate and brings it to my door.Great service………………..Thank you to Australia POst..

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