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Ben in the mail run van.
Ben in the mail run van.
Driving through the South Australian outback.
Mail run in the air.

Outback Mail Run

Thursday, November 22, 2001
Ben joins one of the longest mail runs in the world — this is Aussie posting at its best!

John Stillwell has always lived in South Australia. For seven years, he was an opal miner in Coober Pedy and occasionally helped the previous mailman with his run. Seven years ago, he bought the business, and has driven the mail trip more than 700 times.

When you consider the run covers 600km in just one day, you might imagine the job to be quite a lonely one. Not for John. While the mail side of things is controlled by Australia Post, John has incorporated a spot of tourism into his days and thoroughly enjoys showing people a remote part of Australia not seen by many. John says it's a two-way thing — his passengers learn about the Australian outback, and he learns about their lives.

There are usually three to eight passengers with John, mainly in winter because of the intense summer heat. They are always amazed by the vastness and flatness of the area. You drive for hours without seeing so much as a hill.

The mail run, possibly Australia's longest, follows a dirt road triangle, starting and finishing in Coober Pedy, taking in Oodnadatta and William Creek. On the way, John delivers mail to five stations and two towns. He carries an average of 20 bags of mail each trip, as well as large and interesting packages. To a lot of people, John offers a lifeline and takes them goods they cannot just pop out and buy.

Just out of Coober Pedy, you will see the 5500km dingo fence, the longest ever built, keeping the wild dogs separate from sheep and cattle.

About 60km further on is the huge salt lake, Cadibarrawirracanna, Aboriginal for stars reflecting on water.

The first mail stop is at the world's largest cattle station, Anna Creek. At 23,000 square kilometres, it is about the size of Holland.

Next drop is at the famous William Creek Pub. Locals collect their mail next time they are in "town", where there is a permanent population of seven. Numbers do pick up in the tourist season!

An hour further on is Nilpinna Station — comparatively small at 4000 square kilometres. On the way to Peake Station, the road follows the historic Ghan railway track, and you will see South Australia's longest single bridge. A little further on you can cool off in the Algebuckina waterhole.

An hour further on is the Allendale homestead and then it's another 20 minutes to Oodnadatta, the second point of the triangle. Mail for the entire population of 180 is dropped at the Pink Roadhouse, famous for its huge Oodna burger. From there you make your way back to Coober Pedy, passing the moon-like landscape that was used for filming Mad Max with Mel Gibson.


Coober Pedy, 846km north-west of Adelaide.


Outback Mail Run tours leave every Monday and Thursday. Prices start at $90 per person. They can be booked through the Coober Pedy Underground Bookshop.

More information

Coober Pedy Underground Bookshop
Ph: (08) 8672 5558 or 1800 069 911
Wrightsair: Ph: (08) 8670 7962

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