By PETER CATON
LIKE losing a child that's how Tweed Valley resident Mark Swain describes the theft of his hand-made letterbox depicting a lifesize Ned Kelly.
Despite being armed with a gun, the iron-helmeted bushranger has fallen captive to unknown outlaws, leading Mr Swain to plea for his safe return.
The unique letterbox, designed to swivel so that Mr Swain could change its position each day, had become a landmark for both tourists and locals.
Tourists on the Numinbah Road between Murwillumbah and Nerang had stopped to photograph the letterbox and some had offered to buy it.
Mr Swain said yesterday the theft of Ned, which had taken him weeks to create with a carved camphor laurel torso, cut-out paint-tin head bolted to the neck and Driza-Bone coat, was devastating.
"It had a lot of sentimental value. It's like losing a child - you make these things and they are hard to lose," he said.
Mr Swain said he had placed Ned at the front of his rural driveway at Boatharbour on the Numinbah Road north of Murwillumbah six months ago after another smaller version had been kidnapped. The smaller Ned had been returned, but he had been "battered and bruised" prompting his replacement with a life-size model which Mr Swain said was not easy to move.
"I'm hoping they will return the big fellow too," he added.
"This is a tourist route now and a lot of tourists have been stopping with their cameras. We even had a letter signed 'the Numinbah mob', saying 'Dear Ned, we just wanted to congratulate you on how great you look'."
Mr Swain has offered a reward for the return of big Ned and plans to hold a party on his return.
But he suspects the theft is part of a dastardly scheme which has seen a number of artistic letterboxes in the Murwillumbah area disappear.
Various sites on the Internet are dedicated to distinctive Australian letter- boxes, with Ned Kelly styles a favourite.
Have you a story to tell of recent letterbox theft? If so please email our newsroom on email@example.com or phone us on 07 55246400 or 02 66721833.