HIS face is familiar. His smile and quick banter has engaged thousands of people in our community for decades.
His place behind the customer service counter at Australia Post in Taree spans more than 35 years.
Meet Ricky Fittock.
The introduction comes in the wake of his decision to retire. Today Ricky will be at home, not behind the counter in the Albert Street office. Today Ricky may decide to garden, clean-out the shed or sketch out a rough draft of what the next chapter of his life story will be without Australia Post. So far the dot points include travel, family, grandchildren and friends.
Ricky's 41-year career with Australia Post and 35-year placement at the Taree office is a lesson in commitment and adaptability as he thrived in an organisation that repeatedly restructured to meet the challenges presented by technology and changing customer needs.
The path to employment began for Ricky at 18-years-of-age. Word on the street in Dorrigo was that the Post Master General's Office was recruiting and so Ricky decided to sit the exam. The choice was made of necessity, not borne of a desire to work for the Post Master General.
"I sat the exam and passed. At the time I didn't really have any idea of what I wanted to do. I had an inkling that I might like to go to university to do accounting or join the defence force but it was a lot harder if you came from a lower income family. So I thought, this will be a start," Ricky explained.
That start took Ricky from his home and family in Dorrigo to a Strathfield boarding house in Sydney for training. The change challenged Ricky but even now, he recalls with laughter his greatest challenge was learning to type.
"We used telegrams a lot for urgent information and so you had to learn how to type. When we were young, hardly anyone knew how to type and I remember sitting in a classroom with banks and banks of typewriters. You had to sit there with your headphones on and type, 'aaaaa' and 'bbbbb' over and over again because you had to be able to deliver a certain speed to be able to transmit a certain number of telegrams in a set time, and to receive as well, with a measure of accuracy," Ricky explained.
"The hardest part was, not so much doing the book work and theory, it was just getting this typing thing right. Once I got it, I was fine and I quite enjoyed it."
Ten months of training delivered Ricky the opportunity to sign-on the dotted line for a position. It was April 9, 1973.
The journey to Taree came via a few placements at metropolitan post offices and a few years at the GPO in Sydney.
He left the city for West Kempsey with optimism borne of the confidence that comes with youth and young love. He had met the love of his life, Veronica at a party in Sydney and together they decided to embrace the journey of a new start in West Kempsey. The year was 1978.
Six months later Ricky recalls he had to complete paperwork to 'own' a position that would secure his future within the organisation and to do that, it meant another move.
He says he was given a choice of Taree and two other places the names of the other sites long erased from his memory.
"I didn't know anyone in Taree, and other than travelling through it a couple of times going up and down the coast from Sydney to Dorrigo - I really knew nothing about the place. I thought, well that'll do and so I started at Taree on April 1, 1979," Ricky said.
"The significance of the day was not lost on me as I remember the day before I had nowhere to live! Things were grim.
"I booked into a caravan park, stayed there one night and then moved into the old Foggs hotel and lived there temporarily. I had to eat out all the time and I wasn't on much money in those days. It was a hard start and Veronica was still in West Kempsey.
"I remember walking in on my first day and thinking, 'these are all pretty old fellas'."
One year later Ricky married his Veronica and together they worked to create a life in the Manning Valley. In time their family came to have a daughter, Rebecca and a son, Joshua.
One year became two and then, very quickly it was 41 years for Ricky with Australia Post. He says there were moments when he gave pause to his choice to stay with the organisation in Taree.
"We had the kids, we bought a home, then it was school, life just flowed on. I had the opportunity to apply for promotion elsewhere but I thought we were fairly well settled and so I stayed," he explained.
"In the 35 years I have been at Taree, it's all been here except for an occasional relief job at Wingham or Forster.
"In one way I consider myself lucky to have had such a stable job. I've never had any regrets, I've met and worked with some really good people."
Ricky says it is the people he will miss as he learns to adapt to the challenges of retirement.
"I was a very quiet, shy and reserved person, but over time, working behind the counter and talking with so many people, well I can now talk to anybody!" Ricky laughs.
"My wife says, 'God! From someone who never spoke to anyone, now you'll talk to anyone!', and that's true, as I'm pretty happy to initiate conversation."
Ricky says retirement "will be different altogether and I have finally accepted that I've done my bit. I am looking forward to the change."
Change has punctuated Ricky's career and he welcomes its challenges for learning. From his job being just about the delivery of letters, parcels and telegrams to embracing numerous restructures, agency work and technology, interestingly, Ricky cites the introduction of queuing as a major challenge and shift in community behaviour.
"Australia Post was one of the very first government departments to start forming queues.
"Initially, we used to get negative comments about queues, especially because we are in a country area. People off properties would comment that they were being treated like cattle or sheep because we made them line-up like animals that needed to go through the shutes," Ricky recalls.
For all the customer service challenges, Ricky says he loves that he has watched people grow and change.
"A lot of customers have stayed in town and I have watched them grow. The kids are now the parents and I've watching their kids grow-up," he says.
"No matter how old I get, some of the older customers who have known me since I was younger, well, I still get called 'boy', 'lad' and 'young fella' regardless of how old I am!
"News of my retirement has been filtering through and it's lovely that people have offered numerous opinions on my decision to retire. Some will say I am too young to retire, that I should keep working for as long as I can and others will say, 'good on you!'
"For us, it was about retiring on my own terms."
Ricky likes a challenge and sees being at his home in Cundletown will present many - there is the shed that's too full of stuff, the vegetable patch that won't grow great potatoes and finding time to travel.
He says he will be alone in his gardening endeavours as "Veronica doesn't like gardening very much."
He laughs as he says "she doesn't like getting her hands dirty but she likes the end result when I can cut the roses, flowers or sweet peas and bring them inside for her."
Ricky says "he's not one for sleeping in" and it "will be wonderful to wake and just look to the weather and then decide what to do for the day."