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Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 49 [52]


Federation occurred in 1901, but it was a full twelve years before a regular stamp, for widespread use, with the word ‘Australia’ on it, made its bow. There are various reasons for the delay, but perhaps the principal concerned a debate in the new Federal parliament as to whether Australia wanted to affirm its monarchism by following the convention of the time to place the King of England’s portrait squarely at the centre of its postage stamps, or whether, by replacing it with some other image, to emphasise the new federation’s identity and (relative) independence. In short, if it didn’t always wear these titles, a monarchist/republican thing.

We seem to have come a long way, don’t we?

There were some other reasons for the delay. It wasn’t until 1911, for example, that, upon the United Kingdom’s extension of its one penny uniform letter-rate to Australia as a member of the Empire, postage rates were uniformatised between the new Australian states. In that year the Commonwealth government announced a competition for the design of new stamps. Over a thousand entries were received.

Approaching an election, and perhaps fearful of the outcome, the Labor government of Andrew Fisher, Australia’s fifth Prime Minister, a government which included many republicans with a strong aversion to including royal symbols of any kind on official insignia, released at last, on January 2nd 1913, as the first of a series of fifteen denominations, a one-penny stamp. Modelled upon the winner of the design competition, the stamp had, at its centre, the figure of a kangaroo superimposed upon a map of Australia – the famous ‘kangaroo and map’ design. The furore this caused is said – doubtless by people with some propensity for exaggeration – to have divided the country.

Certainly the Liberal Party did not like it. When Fisher lost the election a short time later, one of the first acts of the new Liberal government of Joseph Cook was to order the design of a second and parallel set of stamps. Released progressively from 8th December 1913, these displayed, firmly at their centre (though flanked by a kangaroo on the left, an emu on he right), the head of King George V.

The two sets – the kangaroo-and-map and the George V – were in use, in tandem, until the death of George V in 1936. The kangaroo-and-map stayed in use for a further fifteen years.

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