The ‘Kangaroo and Map’ design, Australia’s break with the “Royal” Tradition

3/09/2013     Australia

In the centenary year celebrating the appearance of the first ‘Kangaroo and Map’ stamp, Australia Post issued a red $10 example to coincide with the International Stamp Federation meeting held in Melbourne. The original, and now iconic design resulted from a competition arranged by the Post Master-General’s Department that was launched in January 1911 and which drew over 1000 entries.

The winning entry, attracting a substantial £100 prize, was a traditional full-face portrait of the reigning British Monarch, George V. However when in October of the same year, a new Labour Post Master-General was appointed, he sought to explore other “more modern” designs by appointing the Victoria Artist’s Association to commission an artist to design a suitable “Australian” stamp. His belief that “A postage stamp is one of the best advertising mediums the country can have” required a break with tradition to make a bold statement about the new nation.

Various designs were suggested, including a horizontal format that showed a Kangaroo superimposed on a map of Australia surrounded by two upright unfurled flags; the Union Jack and the Australian Flag located within the framed border on opposite sides of the main image (of which a 2½d blue mono-coloured Essay has recently been re-discovered).

The final design was an amalgamation combining the work of the water colourist Blamire Young, who was instrumental in including the outline coastline map of Australia, and the work of one of the runners-up in the original competition, Edwin Arnold (an Englishman), who had first suggested the inclusion of a Kangaroo. There was much debate and criticism of the design, which centred on a perceived lack of reverence to the “Crown”. The primary objection being any reference to the British Empire, simply stating boldly at the top of each stamp the two words ‘Australia Postage’. Other Commonwealth countries at the time continued to maintain and incorporate an image of the reigning British Monarch. An editorial, critical of the ‘Kangaroo and Map’ design, which appeared in “The Argus”, a Melbourne newspaper on the 4th April 1912, stated that the Monarch’s head ‘is the most obvious and unmistakable symbol of the bond between the various members of our far scattered empire’.

However a determined “modernising” Post Master pushed through the break with tradition and was responsible for ordering the vertical format ‘Kangaroo and Map’ series. The first stamp, the 1d (One Penny) Red value appeared on the 1st January 1913. There was a delay in other values being issued caused by the failure of printing paper to arrive from Britain. Yet despite this initial hiccup there was a great deal of popular pride in the symbolic “home grown” design especially at that time when almost everybody communicated by letter and personally affixed the stamp.


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