Australian Antarctic Territory


If you have read my previous two articles on the stamps of French Antarctica (January 1990), and British Antarctica (July, 1990), you may be thinking to yourself

"Never mind this foreign lot, what about domestic products? What about Made-in-Australia?"
Well, I'm coming to that now.

Australians have had a long history of contact with the Antarctic continent. The Australian explorers and scientists are right there with the international heroes from the early years of the 20th century.

Not all of the countries who are signatories of the Antarctic Treaty recognise territorial claims, but Australia has laid claim to a great chunk of the continent, plus the sub-antarctic islands of Heard and Macquarie. Any territory claimed has to be inhabited and used for the claim to be recognised, and Australia has permanently staffed bases — Mawson; Wilkes; Casey and Davis, in addition to Heard Island and Macquarie Island. This has justified the issue of separate stamps for use in the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Before the issue of separate stamps, Australian postage stamps were used on the mail posted in the Antarctic zone. I have two covers posted at Heard Island 19th February 1950, one of which carried the stamps issued for the Newcastle Sesquicentenary of 1947, and another which had the Victory set of 1946.

In 1954 the first Australian Antarctic base was set up and named "Mawson" after the Australian explorer of the South Polar continent, Sir Douglas Mawson, and I have a Registered cover postmarked at Mawson dated 15th Feb. 1964, with the Australian Produce Food strips of stamps. (Fig.1)

To commemorate the event, Australia issued a stamp showing a map of Antarctica and native flora and fauna. This was first used at the base on 16th February 1955, but it was used previously on the sub-antarctic bases, 28th Dec 1954 at Macquarie Island and 23rd January 1966 at Heard Island.

However, the first stamp inscribed AUSTRALIAN ANTARCTIC TERRITORY was a blue and white 2/- value, issued March 27th 1957 in Australia, but was not used in the Territory until December 1957, at Macquarie Island, and not until February 1958 for Davis and Mawson (Fig.2)

In 1959 four more values were issued to make a definitive set of 5d, 8d 1/- and 2/3d. The 5d and 8d values were overprinted before issue, as a postal rate increase had been announced after they had been printed as 4d and 7½d. Then on July 5th 1961 the 5d stamp was re-issued in blue with the value engraved as part of the design.

The design of the stamp was based on a picture taken of Dr Mackay, Professor David and Douglas Mawson, who were the Northern Party who reached the South Magnetic Pole in 1909. (Fig.3)


photo taken from Shackleton's book "Heart of the Antarctic"

The photograph was taken with Mawson's camera on a trigger release to take all three of the men.

In the book "The Heart of the Antarctic", which was the report of the 1909 Shackleton Expedition, Professor Edgeworth David relates that he and Mackay fixed up the flagpole, and hoisted the Union Jack at 3.30 pm on January 16th, and conforming to Lieutenant Mawson's instructions announced "I hereby take possession of this area now containing the Magnetic Pole for the British Empire." Then they gave three cheers for His Majesty. He also noted that it was zero degrees and they were very glad it was over, and they just had to trudge back over the sastrugi ice to their camp.

In 1984, two stamps were issued to mark the 75th anniversary of the Expedition, showing a prismatic compass and Lloyd-Creak dip circle on the 30c, and an aneroid barometer and theodolite on the 85c.

Mawson who was born in 1882 and died in 1958, is the great Australian of Antarctica, and many books and articles have been written about his unbelievable feats of courage and endurance. In 1961, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Mawson Expedition of 1911, a 5d stamp was issued showing Mawson in his balaclava.

He also has a permanent memorial in Antarctica, as the HUT he used is still there, and work has been carried out to ensure it is preserved to withstand the terrible climatic conditions. As I mentioned earlier, the base is named after him, and the centenary of his birth was marked with two stamps in 1982, both the 27c and 75c stamp. showing him in his Antarctic clothing. (Fig.4)

The Australian presence in Antarctica is based entirely on scientific research of one kind or another, and the stamps issued for the introduction of decimal currency were designed by John Mason to show work done by the base personnel. There were 10 stamps issued originally from 1c to $1, but a 5c was issued 25/9/1968 to meet changes in the postal rate. These stamps were very different from the original issues, which were monochrome. The decimal definitives were multi-coloured and made use of the fluorescent orange which is safety colour used for out-door clothing in Antarctica. One of the big problems on the ice continent is loss of visibility due to a 'whiteout' caused by blizzards or snowstorms - the orange has proved to be the most visible colour.

As was usual, the issue date was different at each of the bases, this is because the stamps were taken on the supply ship which called at each base in turn.

An advantage of collecting the stamps of Australian Antarctic Territory stamps is that there are not too many early issues, so that if you start collecting now, it is not an impossible task to locate them. They can often be found in club books at Stamp Days, or in the sales, as well as in dealers stocks. The issues have all been relevant to the Territory. The signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1961 has been commemorated twice (1971 & 1986). The Treaty has been signed by all the member nations — the 12 original members, of which Australia was one — and then by each nation which has since joined the increasing number carrying out research there. One of the most important aims of the Treaty recognises that it is in the interest of all mankind, that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene, or object of international discord.

In my view Antarctica represents all that is best in the spirit of co-operation, there is a better exchange of information and scientists down there at the bottom of the world than almost anywhere else, and it would be a pity if Man's greed becomes the over-riding factor that changes the concept of research and discovery that has so far been the history of Antarctica.

In 1972 Australian Antarctic Territory issued two stamps 7c and 35c to commemorate the circumnavigation of Antarctica by Captain Cook (Fig. 5).

This was the year of Cook's third voyage of discovery, during which he crossed the Antarctic Circle. He was the first man to have done so, and to add to this feat he did so three times in different places, and in so doing he circumnavigated the whole continent. In present days of air transport and atomic-powered ships with re-enforced metal hulls, it is easy to forget what an incredible achievement this was on the part of Captain Cook and his crew who had only a wooden ship and the most elementary navigation aids to support them in this journey, which took two years, Another fact that is not often appreciated is that Cook travelled far enough south to have discovered the Antarctic Continent if he had been in a different position, as the Grahamland Peninsular is well to the north of Cook's most southern point. If only . . . .

A new set of 12 definitives was issued August 15th 1973. The stamps showed designs representing the food chain showing who eats what (and what ends up as top of the heap) — and explorer's aircraft. One of these, Byrd's Ford tri-motor airplane was part of the design of the next issue of stamps six years later in 1979. (Fig. 6)

These 2 stamps were issued to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the first flight over the South Pole by Richard Byrd as navigator, Balchen and June as pilots and McKinley as photographer. This flight was especially important to Byrd, as three years earlier he had made the first flight over the North Pole with Floyd Bennett. If you discount Captain Cook, (and I suppose Mawson, who was in fact born in England), is Richard Byrd the only foreigner to appear on the stamps of Australian Antarctic Territory?

The next set of stamps were issued in three stages to replace the food-chain definitives The new set was designed to show ships involved in the discovery of Antarctica. The set contained an interesting error. The ship shown on the 15c stamp issued on 21/5/1980 was supposed to be the ‘NIMROD' but as incorrect archival material had been given to the designer Ray Honisett, the ship depicted is actually the ‘Morning'. This photograph, taken from Shackleton's book ‘Heart of the Antarctic' shows very clearly that the funnel on the ‘NIMROD' is between the 1st and 2nd masts, whereas it is behind the 2nd mast on the ‘MORNING' (Fig 7.)

Australia Post did not withdraw the incorrect stamp prematurely, but issued a corrected 15c stamp as part of the next series, on 9/9/81. The original 15c stamp was included in the souvenir pack, but the redrawn stamp was not in the next pack.

I have also obtained a pack which has two 35c stamps but no 15c stamp in its make-up — and I did not notice there was anything wrong with the pack until I was looking at it months later when I was wondering whether to write up the new definitives!

The current set of definitive stamps were issued in three bites; July 1984, August 1985 and March 1987. I think they are a striking set, with the first ones being more immediately eye-catching than the subsequent 10, but it must be difficult to design a colourful set showing a continent of ice — there is a also a limit to the scenes and colours, despite the huge size.

In 1983 Australia Post issued a SPECIAL ISSUES set of a se- tenant strip of five 27c stamps to show regional wildlife, (Fig. 8)

and this has since been followed by a similar strip of five 37c local stamps for Environment, Conservation and Technology, in July 1988. The latest of these special issues was a set of four to show Pictures of Antarctic landscapes painted by Sir Sydney Nolan, issued in June 1989.

I would like to give both praise and criticism for Australian Post stamp design council — typical!! As usual, whatever the policy in use, Australia Post gets it wrong for some collectors. My praise is that the stamp issues are not too numerous, appropriate, and the packs and covers are well designed.

But I have three complaints : -
The first is that the FIRST DAY COVERS ARE NO LONGER POSTMARKED AT THE BASES. This is probably shared by other collectors, and I have stopped collecting FDC's since that decision was implemented.

The second complaint is possibly idiosyncratic, but I feel that there is TOO MUCH INFORMATION put into the souvenir packs. This complaint sounds unreasonable as mostly we collectors grumble about lack of information. But I feel with these beautifully researched and produced packs, there is nothing left for me to do. My collection in this regard can hardly be differentiated from that of any other collector, and that is not what I feel stamp collecting is all about.

The third complaint is such as simple thing - the latest souvenir packs and first day cover envelopes are too large to be mounted on a standard album page. I bought the Technology and Conservation set issued in July 1988 with the souvenir pack and the First day cover, but these are just lying in a box because I cannot mount them in the album as they are both too large. I write up my collection as the stamps are issued, and whereas originally I bought a mint set, (sometimes a gutter set), a first day cover and a souvenir pack, I now buy only a single set, because of this mounting problem.

In these articles I have not referred to the wide field of special postmarks and covers issued for Antarctica, but have concentrated on the stamp issues. Collections of special covers allows the scope for individuality, as they can be linked with illustrations and cinderella material. I have accumulated a ‘sprinkling' of FDC's, miniature sheets and special Expedition cachets, as the fancy took me at the time. I can usually find an item like that at Stamp Days or Exhibitions, particularly if I fossick around in the dealers 'odd' boxes. If I see one, and I like it, I buy it and then slot it into an appropriate part of my collection.

I don't pretend to be an expert or fantastically knowledgeable about the stamps or postal history of Antarctica, but I have gained terrific pleasure from collecting them. In the case of Australian Antarctic, many collectors that I know do not seem to recognise the stamps at all, and I wondered if it was a case of ‘familiarity breeding contempt' but from the response when I have displayed my collection, it seems to be ‘unfamiliarity breeds surprise'. As the Australian Antarctic stamps are valid for postage in and from Australia, I use many of them on my personal correspondence. They can be purchased at any Philatelic Sales section of the Post Office, but if you are not in range of one of these sales points, you can always put a standing order in with the Bureau, or buy them from your local dealer ...

Go on ... have a look at your next Stamp Day.

First published in The Australian Stamp Monthly, November 1990, under my pen name, (with illustrations in black and white only).

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