The Commonwealth of Australia is a country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. It is the world’s sixth-largest country by total area measuring a total of 2,969,907 square miles (7,692,024 square kilometers). It’s capital is Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory while the largest city is Sydney in New South Wales. The name “Australia” is derived from the Latin Terra Australis (“southern land”) a name used for lands in the southern hemisphere since ancient times. Australia was inhabited by indigenous people who spoke languages grouped into roughly 250 language groups for 50,000 years before the European discovery of the continent by Dutch explorers in 1606.
The first recorded European sighting of the Australian mainland, and the first recorded European landfall on the Australian continent, are attributed to the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon. In early 1606, he sighted the coast of Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland, making landfall on February 26 at the Pennefather River near the modern town of Weipa on Cape York. The Dutch charted the whole of the western and northern coastlines and named the island continent “New Holland” during the 17th century, but made no attempt at settlement. William Dampier, an English explorer and privateer, landed on the north-west coast of New Holland in 1688 and again in 1699 on a return trip. In 1770, James Cook sailed along and mapped the east coast, which he named New South Wales and claimed for Great Britain.
With the loss of its American colonies in 1783, the British Government sent a fleet of ships, the “First Fleet”, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, to establish a new penal colony in New South Wales. A camp was set up and the flag raised at Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, on January 26, 1788, a date which became Australia’s national day, Australia Day, although the British Crown Colony of New South Wales was not formally promulgated until February 7, 1788. The first settlement led to the foundation of Sydney, and the exploration and settlement of other regions.
The population grew steadily in subsequent decades; the continent was explored and an additional five self-governing crown colonies were established. A British settlement was established in Van Diemen’s Land, now known as Tasmania, in 1803, and it became a separate colony in 1825. The United Kingdom formally claimed the western part of Western Australia (the Swan River Colony) in 1828. Separate colonies were carved from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859. South Australia was founded as a “free province”—it was never a penal colony. Victoria and Western Australia were also founded “free”, but later accepted transported convicts. A campaign by the settlers of New South Wales led to the end of convict transportation to that colony; the last convict ship arrived in 1848.
On January 1, 1901, the six colonies federated, forming the Commonwealth of Australia as a dominion of the British Empire. The Federal Capital Territory (later renamed the Australian Capital Territory) was formed in 1911 as the location for the future federal capital of Canberra. Melbourne was the temporary seat of government from 1901 to 1927 while Canberra was being constructed. The Northern Territory was transferred from the control of the South Australian government to the federal parliament in 1911. In 1914, Australia joined Britain in fighting World War I, taking part in many of the major battles fought on the Western Front. Many Australians regard the defeat of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) at Gallipoli as the birth of the nation — its first major military action.
The six self-governing Australian colonies that formed the Commonwealth of Australia on January 1, 1901, operated their own postal service and issued their own stamps – 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 March 1, 1901 (this agency would be disaggregated on July 1, 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 and continued to be valid for postage until February 14, 1966, when the introduction of decimal currency made all stamps bearing the earlier currency invalid for use.
For most, Australian philately proper begins on January 2, 1913, with the issue of a red one penny stamp picturing a kangaroo on a map of Australia, the design of which was adopted in part from the entry that won the Commonwealth 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 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. One of the first acts of the Cook Liberal Government, sworn in on June 14, 1913, was to order a series of postage stamps with the profile of George V, the first of which was released on December 8, 1913. 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.
Australia’s first commemorative stamp was issued on May 9, 1927, to mark the opening of the first Parliament House in Canberra. Subsequently, issues have appeared regularly commemorating Australian achievements and landmarks in Australian history. Australia’s first airmail-designated stamp was released on May 20, 1929. a special three pence stamp used for mail sent on the Perth-Adelaide air service. In 1931 a further two airmail-designated stamps appeared but after these general definitives were used for mail sent by air. The first Australian multicolored stamps appeared on October 31, 1956, as part of the Melbourne Olympic Games commemorative issue. These were printed by a foreign company. The first Australian-printed multicolored stamp, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Australian Inland Mission, was issued on September 5, 1962. The first Christmas stamp appeared on November 6, 1957. In recent years, designs for the Christmas issue have alternated each year between the religious and the secular. The first self-adhesives stamps were issued in 1990. 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.
Scott #423, released in 1966, commemorates the second recorded European expedition to land on the Australian continent, the first to do so on the western coastline and the first to leave behind an artifact to record the visit. Dutch sailor Dirk Hartog (1580-1621) was the master of a Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie – VOC) wooden-hulled 700 ton sailing ship called the Eendracht, meaning “Concord” or “Unity”. For her maiden voyage on the open ocean, the Eendracht set sail on January 23, 1616, from the Dutch port of Texel in the company of several other VOC ships, on a trading venture bound for Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (the present-day Jakarta).
Sailing down the west Africa coastline, Hartog became separated from the other ships in a horrible storm, and reached the Cape of Good Hope alone on August 5, 1616. The Eendracht stayed there until August 27 when Hartog decided to set out unaccompanied across the Indian Ocean towards their destination. Hartog’s course across the Indian Ocean was a much more southerly one than the route usually followed by such voyages in that time, making use of the prevailing westerly winds at those latitudes known as the “Roaring Forties”. Whether Hartog had intended to maintain such a southerly course for so long or was blown off course remains unclear to this day.
On October 25, Hartog unexpectedly sighted land — “various islands, which were, however, found uninhabited” —, at a latitude around 26° South. These islands and the nearby land were previously unknown to Europeans, and unwittingly the Eendracht had become the second recorded European ship to visit the continent of Australia, having been preceded (albeit, on the opposite side of the continent) 10 years earlier by Willem Janszoon and the Duyfken when they sailed along and (briefly) landed on the western shores of the Cape York Peninsula. Hartog and his crew made landfall on the island, now known as Dirk Hartog Island which lies off Shark Bay in Western Australia. This was to be the first recorded landing on the western coastline by a European. The island was uninhabited, and Hartog spent three days there, finding nothing of great interest or value to him or his company.
Before departing on October 27, Hartog left behind a pewter dish affixed to a post set in a rock cleft (now called Cape Inscription), upon which he had inscribed the following brief account of his visit:
1616 On 25 October arrived the ship Eendracht, of Amsterdam: Supercargo Gilles Miebais of Liege, skipper Dirch Hatichs of Amsterdam. on 27 d[itt]o. she set sail again for Bantam. Deputy supercargo Jan Stins, upper steersman Pieter Doores of Bil. In the year 1616.
This object, now known as the Dirk Hartog Dish, measuring 36.5 cm in diameter, is the oldest known written artifact from Australia’s European history. It lay unmolested in situ for a further eighty years, until it was re-discovered half-buried (the post had rotted away) by a Dutch expedition of three ships under the command of the Flemish captain Willem de Vlamingh in 1697. De Vlamingh had earlier explored Rottnest Island and the Swan River (later to be the site of the city of Perth), and had been making his way up the western coast of Australia. He replaced the Hartog dish with one of his own, onto which he copied Hartog’s original inscription and added an account of his own landing, installing it in the same spot nailed to a cypress-pine trunk taken from Rottnest.
Hartog’s original dish returned with De Vlamingh later to Amsterdam, where it has remained. It is currently on display in the Rijksmuseum. In 2000 the Hartog plate was temporarily returned to Australia as part of an exhibition at the Sydney Maritime Museum. This led to suggestions that the plate, considered important as the oldest-known written artifact from Australia’s European history, should be acquired for an Australian museum, but the Dutch authorities have made it clear that the plate is not for sale
After leaving the island, the Eendracht sailed in a north-west direction along the West Australian coastline, Hartog charting as he went. He gave this land the name T Landt van d’Eendracht or “Eendrachtsland“, after his ship. This was one of the earliest names given for Australia, being in use for 28 years, from 1616 until 1644.
Australian stamps commemorating Hartog’s discovery were released in 1966 and 1985, both depicting his ship. In 2016 the Perth Mint issued a 1 troy ounce (31 g) silver coin to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Hartog’s Australian landfall. In addition to the island in Shark Bay where he made landfall being named Dirk Hartog Island, streets have been named in his honor in Amsterdam, Canberra and fourteen other Australian towns.
Today’s stamp of the day was released by Australia on October 24, 1966, commemorating the 350th anniversary of Dirk Hartog’s landing in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Printed by photogravure and perforated 13½, Scott #423 is denominated 4 cents and colored blue, black, deep orange and gold. In addition to portraying the ship Eendracht, the stamp also includes a portion of the inscription from the Hartog plate.