Postage stamps and postal history of Australia

This is an overview of the postage stamps and postal history of Australia.

The six self-governing Australian colonies that formed the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901 operated their own postal service and issued their own stamps – see articles on the systems on New South Wales (first stamps issued 1850), Victoria (1850), Tasmania (1853), Western Australia (1854), South Australia (1855) and Queensland (1860). Under section 51(v) of the "Commonwealth of Australia Constitution 1900", “postal, telegraphic, telephonic, and other like services” became a Commonwealth responsibility.

The Commonwealth's Postmaster-General's Department became effective on 1 March 1901 (this agency would be disaggregated on 1 July 1975 in part into the Australian Postal Commission trading as Australia Post). All then-current colony stamps which continued on sale became de-facto Commonwealth stamps. Some of these stamps continued to be used for some time following the introduction in 1913 of the Commonwealth's uniform postage stamp series. These stamps continued to be valid for postage until 14 February 1966 when the introduction of decimal currency made all stamps bearing the earlier currency invalid for use.

Circumstances precluded the immediate issue of a uniform postage stamp series for the new Commonwealth. But there was no hindrance in respect to a Postage Due series. The first of these, the design of which was based on the current New South Wales postage due stamps, was issued in July 1902. Postal rates became uniform between the new States on 1 May 1911 because of the extension of the United Kingdom domestic postal rate of 1d per half ounce (Imperial Penny Post) to Australia as a member of the British Empire. One penny became the uniform domestic postage rate. One penny postcards and lettercards also appeared in 1911. In the same year, the Postmaster-General's Department held a Stamp Design Competition for a uniform series of Commonwealth postage stamps. This competition attracted over one thousand entries.

For most, Australian philately proper begins on 2 January 1913 with the issue of a red 1d (one penny) Kangaroo and Map, the design of which was adopted in part from the entry that won the Stamp Design Competition. This was the first definitive stamp with the sole nomenclature “Australia”. The first definitive issue had fifteen stamps ranging in value from ½d (halfpenny) to £2 (two pounds). The Kangaroo and Map design was ordered by the Fisher Government [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Fisher_Ministry] which had in its ranks a number of pro-republicans who strenuously opposed the incorporation of the monarch's profile on Australian stamps. One of the first acts of the Cook Government [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cook_Ministry] , sworn in on 14 June 1913, was to order a series of postage stamps designed with the profile of George V. On 8 December 1913 the first of these, an engraved 1d carmine-red, appeared. Soon after typographed values of the design ranging from ½d (halfpenny) to 1/4d (one shilling and four pence) appeared. The Postmaster-General's Department then went on to keep both basic designs on issue – 38 years for the Kangaroo and Map design and 23 years for the George V.

With the accession of George VI in 1937 until the early 1970s, Australian definitives featured the monarch, Australian fauna and Australian flora. However, particularly in the late 1950s, the depiction of the monarch - now Elizabeth II - on Australian definitives became confined to the base domestic letter rate and the preceding minor values. With the introduction of decimal currency on 14 February 1966, 24 new definitives were issued – the monarch was featured on the minor values (1c to 3c) and on the base domestic letter rate (4c) and the remainder featured Australian birds, Australian marine life, and early Australian maritime explorers [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_exploration_of_Australia#Later_exploration_by_sea] . A feature of this issue was that where there was a direct conversion of value, the design was changed to reflect the new decimal currency value – for example, the 2/6d (two shilling and sixpence) Scarlet Robin definitive (issued 21 April 1965) become the new 25c decimal currency value; likewise the £2 (two pounds) Phillip Parker King definitive (issued 26 August 1964) became the new $4 decimal currency value. The last base domestic letter rate definitive stamp featuring the monarch appeared on 1 October 1971. Since then, the designs of all Australian definitive values have focused on fauna, flora, reptiles, butterflies, marine life, gemstones, paintings, handicrafts, visual arts, community and the like. From 1980, a stamp has been issued annually to commemorate the monarch's birthday.

Australia's first commemorative stamp was issued on 9 May 1927 to mark the opening of the first Parliament House in Canberra [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Parliament_House%2C_Canberra] . Subsequently, issues have appeared regularly commemorating Australian achievements and landmarks in Australian history. The first Australian multicoloured stamps appeared on 31 October 1956 as part of the Melbourne Olympic Games commemorative issue. These were printed by a foreign company. The first Australian-printed multicoloured stamp, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Australian Inland Mission, was issued on 5 September 1962.

There have been many special issues. The first Christmas stamp appeared on 6 November 1957. In recent years, designs for the Christmas issue have alternated each year between the religious and the secular. From 1993, in October of every year, Australia Post has commemorated Stamp Collecting month with special issues, typically featuring topics that are of interest to children such as pets, native fauna and space. Commencing with the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, during the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, stamps featuring Australians who have won an Olympic gold medal are issued on the next postal business day after the achievement.

Australia's first airmail-designated stamp appeared on 20 May 1929. A special 3d (three pence) airmail stamp was available for mail sent on the Perth-Adelaide air service [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Australian_Airways] . The cost of this service was 3d per ½ oz plus normal postage. On 19 March 1931 and 4 November 1931, a further two airmail-designated stamps, both 6d (sixpence), appeared. After these, general definitives were used for mail sent by air.

Coin-operated vending machines were introduced in 1960 and have continued in various forms to the present day. These included Frama vending machines stamps, first issued in 1984 and discontinued in 2003, as well as various booklets. Booklet stamps were discontinued in 1973 but were reintroduced some years later. Stamp booklets were available from Advance Bank ATMs from 1984 until the bank's merger with St George Bank in 1996. These were Australia's first (and, to date, only) triangular stamp issue.

Self-adhesive stamps were first issued in 1990. The first self-adhesive commemoratives appeared in 1993. Self-adhesive stamps have proved popular with users and very soon came to be in more common use than gummed stamps. Australia issues gummed versions of all self-adhesive stamps.

Prior to 1997, the only living persons to appear on stamps were the reigning monarch and other members of the British Royal Family. Since 1997, [http://www.auspost.com.au/BCP/0,1467,CH3007%257EMO19,00.html Australia Post] has issued stamps commemorating living Australians. In particular, an annual Australian Legends issue has commemorated living Australians who have made some significant contribution during their lives.

Stamps with personalized tabs were introduced in 1999. Australia Post has also used tabs to commemorate themes and individuals not considered significant enough for a stamp issue of their own.

Since the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax, separate stamps were introduced for domestic and international postage in 2001. Stamps inscribed "International Post" are not valid for domestic postage. Domestic stamps can be used for overseas postage but contribute less than face value towards the postage (the user must deduct the tax component).

From the 1913 to 1930, Commonwealth and State Government agencies used stamps punctured with OS (“Official Stamp”). In 1931 the puncturing system was abandoned and stamps for government mail were overprinted OS. In February 1933, it was decided that government mail would no longer require postage stamps. The exception to OS stamps being restricted for the use of government agencies was the 4 November 1931 6d airmail stamp. The OS overprinted stamp was sold over post office counters to prevent speculation and was valid for all types of mail.

Australia has had joint stamp issues with New Zealand (1958, 1963 and 1988), the United Kingdom (1963, 1988 and 2005), some of its external territories [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_External_Territories#External] (1965), the United States of America (1988), the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (1990), People’s Republic of China (1995), Indonesia (1996), Singapore (1998), Greece (2000), Hong Kong (2001), Sweden (2001), France (2002) and Thailand (2002).

The stamps of some Australian external territories are valid for postage within Australia. The stamps of the Australian Antarctic Territory (first issue 27 March 1957) and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (first issue 11 June 1963) have always been valid for postage within Australia. When Australia Post took over the Christmas Island postal services on 2 March 1993, from that date, stamps issued by that territory are for valid postage within Australia.

ee also

*List of people on stamps of Australia
*South Australian stamp overprints

Sources

Australia Post Philatelic Group: "Australian Stamp Bulletin". Melbourne: Australian Postal Corporation, various bulletins.
Higgs, John: "The Australasian Stamp Catalogue". Sydney: Seven Seas Stamps, 1996.
Kellow, Geoffrey, and others: "Australian Commonwealth Specialist’ Catalogue". Sydney: Brunsden-White, 1988-2002.
Pitt, Alan: "Stamps of Australia". Sydney: Renniks Publications, 2005.


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