The broader picture: Junk mail

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ONE OF the most visible demonstrations of Australian individuality and inventiveness - bordering on art on the one hand and environmental vandalism on the other - is the rural mailbox. Those shown here were spotted in Western Australia, South Australia, and parts of Victoria and New South Wales.

The classic Australian mailbox is fashioned from a metal milk churn or oil drum. These are readily available to farmers, and make waterproof depositories for the family's post. All the farmer need do is crudely cut a slot in the container for the letters, perhaps paint it, and then either nail it to a post or attach a length of chain or wire to sling it from a convenient tree. Plastic milk churns and petrol cans are used in the same way.

But the mailbox cult which has developed across Australia no longer has much to do with practicality or recycling. Increasingly bizarre and outrageous objects are adapted as mailboxes and there is fierce competition to produce the strangest or funniest.

Animal forms are ingeniously assembled from scrap metal and found objects. Defunct and rusting fridge-freezers are redeployed (these are occasionally shot at, and one owner has thoughtfully provided a bull's-eye target to lure the missiles away from the body of the fridge, which holds his post).The rural mailbox is now an icon as Australian as the koala.