Eventually in my 30s I sold my stamp collection in order to fund the purchase of my first darkroom equipment, but to this day I get nostalgic for those old albums and can’t let a stamp go untouched on incoming mail wherever I work.
That is how I came across the more recent stamps in the above photo of how we remember WWI and other significant conflicts like the Vietnam War. While the Great War was underway British stamps were quite simple and plain, usually a single motif like a sovereign’s head, be it King George V, Edward who abdicated, or Queen Victoria prior to that.
According to Wikipedia: In Australia, the six self-governing states having just merged into one federation, the Commonwealth of Australia, we too had simple motifs of King George V and the kangaroo and koala. Most states had their own postal service and stamps dating back to the 1850s, but with Federation in 1901 a new Australian postal service commenced with the Postmaster-General’s Department (PMG), which operated as such until 1975. It then became the Australian Postal Commission, operating as Australia Post.
The pre-Federation colony stamps continued on sale and became de facto Commonwealth stamps. Some of these stamps continued to be used for some time after Federation following the introduction in 1913 of the Commonwealth's uniform postage stamp series. Those 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.
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”.
One penny became the uniform domestic postage rate, and one penny postcards and lettercards also appeared in 1911. That same year the PMG held a Stamp Design Competition for a uniform series of Commonwealth postage stamps. This competition attracted over one thousand entries. One of those entries was by my grandmother’s Aunt Evelyn Whiting. At our family reunion in 2006 one her descendants brought along the artwork for that stamp competition to show the family.
The first definitive issue of “Roo” stamps had fifteen stamps ranging in value from ½d (halfpenny) to £2 (two pounds). According to Wikipedia the Kangaroo and Map design was ordered by the Fisher Labor Government, which had in its ranks a number of pro-republicans who strenuously opposed the incorporation of the monarch's profile on Australian stamps. Apparently you can’t even keep politics out of stamp design and issue, because one of the first acts of the Cook Liberal Government, sworn in on 14 June 1913, was to order a series of postage stamps 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. Of course after George V’s death his son George VI became king after his brother Edward famously abdicated. And that is how eventually after George VI’s death his daughter Elizabeth became our monarch.
The last base domestic letter rate definitive stamp featuring Queen Elizabeth II 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 Queen Elizabeth's birthday.
For the simple Monarch’s head, kangaroo and koala which adorned our stamps during the WWI years (shown in the photo), each different definitive value had a different colour. And of course the stamps issued to commemorate the WWI centenary years show many different aspects of Australia’s involvement in both WWI and later conflicts, with each stamp including the famous “Flanders poppy” associated with the horrific events of those muddy bloody battlefields of long ago.
My friend Colleen lent me her stamp albums for this project and seeing all those old currency stamps has reawakened my childhood memories of collecting, a passion that has never quite left me. Thanks go to her for sharing these early WWI stamps with us. Lest we forget!