General issues: British dominion/Self government 1913-1939, British dominion/Sovereign state 1939-1986, Monarchy 1986-Present
Country name on general issues: Australia
- Occupation issues:
- German New Guinea 1914-1915
- North West Pacific Islands 1915-1924
- British Commonwealth Occupation Force Japan 1946-1949
- Australian Forces Vietnam 1967
- Local issues:
- Parcel post Perth 1991, Sydney 1991
- Box Link Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney 1992
- Norfolk Island 1947-Present
- Australian Antarctic Territory 1947-Present
- Christmas Island 1958-Present
- Cocos Islands 1963-Present
Currency: 1 Pound = 20 Shilling, 1 Shilling = 12 Pence 1913-1966, 1 Dollar = 100 Cents 1966-Present
Population: 3 773 000 in 1901, 22 751 000 in 2015
Political history Australia
Exploration and first settlement
Australia is located in Oceania. Prior to colonization, Australia was inhabited by a range of Aboriginal peoples – mostly nomadic hunter-gathers. The first documented European exploration of Australia dates from 1606, when the Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon explored the Cape York Peninsula. In the 17th century the Dutch explored much of the northern and western coast of Australia – called New Holland by the Dutch – but they did not claim or settle the territory. In 1770, the British explorer James Cook explored the east coast, which he named New South Wales and claimed for Great Britain. The British first settled Australia in 1788 when they established a penal colony in Port Jackson, the future Sydney – most of the initial British settlements would be penal colonies. Following this first settlement, New South Wales was established as a British colony in 1788.
The colony of New South Wales comprised all of Australia east of the current border of Western Australia. In subsequent years, separate colonies would be carved out of New South Wales. Thus, the colony of Van Diemen’s Land was established in 1825 – renamed Tasmania in 1856. Victoria was established as a separate colony in 1851, South Australia in 1856, and Queensland in 1859. To the west of New South Wales, the British established the first settlement, in 1826, near the current Albany. Subsequently, the colony of Swan River Settlement was formed in 1829 – to be renamed Western Australia in 1832. Most of the colonies achieved self government in the 1850’s. New South Wales and Victoria were the first to do so in 1855, South Australia and Tasmania followed suit in 1856, and Queensland in 1859. Western Australia was the last to achieve self government in 1890.
From federal dominion to full independence
In 1901, the six colonies joined to form the federal dominion of Australia – officially the Commonwealth of Australia. The colonies now became states of the Commonwealth. Through the Act of Westminster of 1931, the British dominions were allowed to become sovereign states. Australia gained de jure sovereignty when it ratified the Act of Westminster in 1942 – back dated to 1939 so that the decisions taken independently by the Australian government, in the advent of WWII, were given a legal basis. However, in the case of Australia, sovereignty was limited by the fact that the Act of Westminster pertained to the Commonwealth of Australia – not to the individual states. Thus, the British retained the right to legislate for the individual states – a right that was almost never exercised. These last legal ties with Great Britain were severed in 1986 through the Australia Act – Australia thus becoming a fully independent monarchy.
States and territories
Australia comprises states – as discussed above – and territories. The territories fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The following territories currently exist:
- The largest territory is the Northern Territory. First part of New South Wales, it was transferred to South Australia in 1863 and established as a separate federal territory in 1911.
- Also, in 1911, the Federal Capital Territory was formed – to build the federal capital of Canberra. Canberra became the capital in 1927. The Federal Capital Territory was renamed the Australian Capital Territory in 1938.
- Norfolk Island was established as a separate territory in 1856 – then as a dependency of New South Wales. Norfolk Island was made a federal territory in 1914.
- The Australian Antarctic Territory was formed in 1933 when the British transferred part of their claims in the Antarctic to Australia. The Australian Antarctic Territory is subject to the Antarctic Treaty that sets aside the Antarctic as a scientific preserve and stipulates that a presence in the Antarctic does not constitute a basis for a claim to de jure sovereignty.
- When the British possessions in Malaysia moved towards independence, the outlying Cocos Islands and Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean were transferred to Australia to become federal territories in 1955 and 1958 respectively.
- Further federal territories include the Ashmore & Cartier Islands, the Coral Sea Islands, Heard Island & McDonald Islands and the Jervis Bay Territory. Of these territories, only Jervis Bay Territory has a small permanent population.
Australia in international politics
As part of the British Empire, and later as close ally of the United States, Australia took part in WWI and WWII and a number of regional conflicts ranging from the Second Boer War, between 1899 and 1902, up to the War on ISIL from 2014 until today. Australian interventions as a regional power include interventions in East-Timor in 1999 and 2006.
Furthermore, Australia has temporarily administered Papua New Guinea and Nauru – a somewhat complicated course of events. When Germany annexed the northeastern part of New Guinea to establish the colony of German New Guinea, Queensland, in 1883, annexed the southeastern part of New Guinea. The British took over in 1884 to establish the colony of British New Guinea. This colony was transferred to Australia as the Territory of Papua in 1906. Furthermore, Australia, during WWI, occupied the German possessions of German New Guinea and Nauru. Nauru – one of the German Marshall Islands – was occupied jointly by Australian and New Zealand forces. In 1915, civil administration was established for the occupied territories that were grouped together as the North West Pacific Islands. Nauru was transferred to Great Britain in 1916. In 1920, the League of Nations formed the mandated territories of New Guinea and Nauru. New Guinea was an Australian mandated territory, while Nauru – officially mandated to Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand – was de facto administered by Australia. After WWII, Papua and New Guinea were joined to form the United Nations trust territory of Papua & New Guinea. Papua New Guinea gained independence in 1975. Nauru also became the United Nations trust territory and gained independence in 1968.
Economically, the first significant major activity was whaling in the late 18th and early 19 centuries. Wool production became the mainstay of the economy in the 19th century. The discovery of gold led to a gold rush in the 1850’s – and a boom for the economy. In the second part of the 19th century manufacturing developed. Modern day Australia is a powerful diversified economy with services as the most important sector. In terms of per capita GDP Australia ranks fourteenth in the world. On the Human Development Index of the United Nations Australia ranks second only after Norway.
The population has grown through immigration throughout the 19th and 20th centuries – immigration continues until today. While in the 19th century the immigrants mainly came from the British Isles, in the 20th century other European countries followed suit. Since the 1970’s, immigration from Asian countries has increased significantly. The Aboriginals today constitute 2.5% of the population. Australia is a highly urbanized country with close to 90% of the population living in cities on the coast.
Postal history Australia
The first stamps issued in Australia were issued by the individual colonies as they existed before the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia as follows:
- New South Wales 1850-1913
- Queensland 1859-1913
- South Australia 1855-1913
- Van Diemen’s Land/Tasmania 1853-1913
- Victoria 1850-1913
- Western Australia 1854-1913
For a more detailed discussion please refer to the profiles.
The first issues of the Commonwealth were postage due stamps in 1902 – probably because, of the individual states, only New South Wales and Victoria issued postage due stamps. In 1911, the postal rates were unified across the states and the state issues became valid for use in all of the Commonwealth. In 1913, the postage stamps of the individual states were superseded by the issues of the Commonwealth. The first set of stamps issued shows a kangaroo and the map of Australia. Also, in 1913, the first stamps with the portrait of King George V are issued. The ‘Roos’ and the ‘KGV’s’ – as the designs are called among collectors of Australia – are the signature designs of Australian stamps in the classical period. They have been issued across a period of over two decades in many varieties of colors, perforations, plates and watermarks – an ideal domain for specialists. In the modern era, Australia issued a blend of stamps with themes of national interest and themes aimed at the thematic collectors market.
Australia issued stamps for the territories it occupied and where it had a military presence:
- Following the Australian occupation of German New Guinea, stamps were issued under Australian military administration in 1914 and 1915. Stamps of both German New Guinea and the German Marshall Islands were overprinted ‘G.R.I.'‘G.R.I’ stands for ‘George Rex Imperator’ or ‘George King & Emperor’..
- Having installed civil administration, stamps were issued for the North West Pacific Islands from 1915 – Australian stamps overprinted ‘N.W. Pacific Islands’. These issues were used in Nauru until Nauru was transferred to the British in 1916. In German New Guinea the issues were used until 1924, when they were superseded by the issues of the mandated territory of New Guinea.
- For its forces in Japan, after WWII, Australia issued stamps from 1946. These were Australian stamps overprinted ‘B.C.O.F. Japan 1946′‘B.C.O.F.’ stands for ‘British Commonwealth Occupation Force’. The BCOF issues were used until 1949.
- Finally, for its forces in Vietnam, booklets were issued in 1967. The booklets contain a pane of ten regular definitives – the cover reads ‘Australian Defence Forces Postage Stamps – Ten 5c stamps’.
Local issues and issues for external territories
For local services, stamps were issued in 1991 and 1992. In 1991 issues for a local parcel post service in Perth and Sydney and in 1992 issues for a local express service for post office box owners in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
For the main external Australian territories, stamps are issued as follows:
- Norfolk Island 1947-Present
- Australian Antarctic Territory 1957-Present
- Christmas Island 1958-Present
- Cocos (Keeling) Islands 1963-Present
For more details about the external Australian territories, please refer to the profiles of these territories. For an overall view of the political and postal developments, please refer to the country diagram of Australia.