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Friday, October 10, 2014

Tea Cooper "Repurposes" the Wollombi Post Office...

If you are looking for historicals with a bit of a difference, then you can't go past Téa Cooper who writes AUSTRALIAN set historicals, many based around her little home town of Wollombi in the Hunter Valley. It is so hard to find good historicals set in our own lovely country.

In JAZZ BABY,  Téa has stepped into the evocative world of the 1920s and it is fascinating to see how she has managed to incorporate Wollombi into a story set in the rough and tumble of Sydney during the jazz age. This once utilitarian building takes on a whole new persona in Tea's tender loving care!

TEA IS GIVING AWAY AN ECOPY OF JAZZ BABY to a randomly drawn commentator so do drop in and tell us what you love best about the 1920s!


Thanks Alison –

I went completely blank when I started to think about this post – so blank I gave up, took the dog and headed down to Wollombi for a cup of coffee. Not much has changed in the village in a long time (except for the coffee, thank goodness). The wisteria outside the old Post Office was in full bloom and the building is now a beautiful family home renovated with a lot of love and skill. What a history it has …. BANG … my post!

I like to slip a little, or even a lot, of Wollombi, into my historicals and although Jazz Baby is set in Sydney my heroine, Dolly of course is from Wollombi. She arrives in the big dark city ready to risk everything.

The Wollombi Post Office (without wisteria)
But back to the Post Office … this is from The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser 29 June 1844
"Permission from his Excellency to the Council to hold their future meetings in a wretched looking hovel, bearing the dignified name of post office, with the proviso that their meetings should in no way interfere with the duties of that establishment. Now to us of the township, who know the building in question, this gracious offer with its stipulation appears highly ridiculous; and we will venture to say that this murky looking affair would never have been honored by the Governor's notice had he been rightly informed of its appearance and history. We will give both in as few words as possible. It is one of a group of old ruinous road-party huts, which have been allowed to remain, a standing disgrace to the township; it is composed of slabs, with a mixed covering of thatch and bark, and it has served in its time for a constable's barrack, a bawdy house, and a gambler's hell. Such is the concern which no doubt misrepresentation induced the Governor to offer for the accommodation of the Council."

I have to admit to taking a bit of poetic licence over the dates – Dolly is set in 1924 and by then the Post Office was a rather more reputable establishment and looked much as it looks today — nevertheless it sneaked into Jazz Baby.


Dolly took a deep breath and knocked on the door of the room Alice had shown her yesterday. No sound came from behind the painted timber, so she pushed it open. A jumbled mess of sheets replaced the beautiful bed of last night. Cushions lay strewn across the floor and one of the glorious golden curtains hung askew. The wingback chair close to the fireplace had disappeared beneath a mess of… she dropped the pail and darted across the room. Draped across the chair lay a wrap, as fine as a spider’s web and fringed with purple feathers. With her thumb and forefinger she lifted the wonderful garment. A waft of something sweet and flowery rose from the material as it floated like angels’ wings. Holding the gown up in both hands she dangled it in the air before clasping the beautiful creation to her shoulders then she made a series of dramatic twirls and drifted to the bed and sank down. An empty bottle of champagne stood on the bedside table next to two crystal flutes. The imprint of lipstick plainly showed on one. Where were the guests who had spent the night at Mrs Mack’s boarding house? Why had they left so early and why hadn’t the woman taken her beautiful gown?

Her mouth opened in surprise. “Oh!” Covering her lips with her hand she smothered the giggle building in her throat. “Oh my!”  Mrs Mack’s boarding house was no such thing. It was nothing more than an up market version of the two rooms out the back of Wollombi Post Office.

Stifling a snort she laid the purple confection on the bed. That’s why there were so many girls living here, why Alice had said she'd got a step up, why Mrs Mack had been so interested in her bones. Oh goodness gracious! A deep flush of heat swarmed up her body. Alf must have known where he was sending her. And who else? No wonder Jack had been so adamant she shouldn’t work here. Thank goodness she didn’t have to explain to Ted. He wouldn’t have asked any questions he’d just have skinned her alive. She let out a huge belly laugh.

“Dolly. Have you got that room done yet?” Annie called from the stairwell.

Dolly sprang to her feet and stuck her head around the door. “Very nearly. I’ll be about five more minutes.”

“Get a move on. There are more rooms up there for you to do, never mind downstairs and I want to get the copper going.”

“I won’t be long.” Dolly scuttled across the room and began pulling off the sheets sniggering at the wafts of perfume billowing around her. She bundled all the bedding into the pail and without glancing in any of the other rooms she bolted along the long Persian runner gracing the landing, down the stairs and out to the scullery.

“Here are the first ones,” she said as she pushed her way through the door into the steaming outhouse.

Annie grunted and gestured at the huge copper.
“Shall I put them straight in?”

“They’re not going to wash themselves, are they?” Annie plonked her hands on her hips and grinned. “Got a bit side tracked, did you?”

“I was just… As soon as Dolly dropped the sheets into the copper she covered her flaming cheeks with her hands, grimaced then burst out laughing.

Annie’s eyes twinkled. “Wondered how long it would take you. You don’t look like a stupid girl to me.”

“So Mrs Mack’s…Dolly spluttered …so Mrs Mack’s isn’t exactly a boarding house,” she managed at last.

“No, not exactly. More like an up market bawdy house actually. She’s good to her girls though not like those dirty places in Darlo.”

“You’re right, Annie. I’m not as silly as I look, just more concerned with getting to Sydney and finding a job. I hadn’t given much thought to anything else.” A huge bubble of excitement swelled in Dolly’s chest. It was too good to be true. Now she definitely wanted this job. Oh yes! She’d promised herself she’d go places she’d never been before, experience every sensation, and this was just the beginning. Humming the words to one of the songs she’d heard last night she waltzed across the room.

“Better get yourself back upstairs and sort the rest of the rooms,” Annie said handing her a pile of clean sheets, “and no trying on the finery while you’re there.” She winked then shooed Dolly out of the scullery.


In the gritty underbelly of 1920s Sydney, a fresh-faced country girl is about to arrive in the big, dark city – and risk everything in the pursuit of her dreams.

Sydney is no place for the fainthearted—five shillings for a twist of snow, a woman for not much more, and a bullet if you look sideways at the wrong person.

Dolly Bowman is ready and willing to take on all the brash, bustling city has to offer. After all it is the 1920s, a time for a girl to become a woman and fulfil her dreams. Turning her back on her childhood, she takes up a position working as a housemaid while she searches for her future.

World War I flying ace Jack Dalton knows he’s luckier than most. He’s survived the war with barely a scratch, a couple of astute business decisions have paid off, and he’s set for the high life. But a glimpse of a girl that he had forgotten, from a place he’s tried to escape suddenly sets all his plans awry. Try as he might he can’t shake the past, and money isn’t enough to pay the debts he’s incurred.


In February 2015 Forgotten Fragrance the first book in a family saga entitled From the Ocean to the Outback, is due for release and there is a sequel to Jazz Baby entitled The Wages of Sin in the pipeline. At the moment Téa is working on a parallel time-line series entitled The Adventures of Miss Abigail Wynter and an Australian Regency – The Great Platypus Hoax. She has also written three Australian contemporary romances.

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