[Editor: This untitled article, regarding the Kangaroo and Map stamps, was published in the general news section of The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 4 April 1912.]
[It is to be hoped]
It is to be hoped that Federal Ministers expressed their feelings in a dignified and tactful way on Tuesday when their colleague, the Postmaster-General, presented each of them with a copy of the new Commonwealth postage stamp, a reproduction of which appears in our columns to-day.
The public was given to understand, beforehand, that Mr. Frazer’s design was “simple, yet expressive;” it is to be feared that that phrase may adequately describe the language which all Australians who have any artistic sense will use when they first catch sight of the design.
Designs, it appears, were submitted by artists from all over the world, and a prize of £100 was awarded to that one which a committee of independent judges considered the best. Mr. Frazer, however, whose modesty is evidently unlikely to mar his career, believed that he could himself, if he tried, beat the prize-winner; so he sat down to evolve “something which he thought would suit the simple tastes of Australians.” Australian tastes must be simple indeed if they are satisfied with the result of Mr. Frazer’s efforts.
The competing designs have not, of course, been made public; but it may be said with assurance that the prize-winners earned their money very easily if their designs were not more effective than Mr. Frazer’s white map of Australia, with the piebald kangaroo endeavouring to look placid though evidently suffering from a severe attack of dyspepsia. Or perhaps the animal’s attitude is not due to dyspepsia, but to the necessity of keeping his ears out of Cambridge Gulf while his tail points to the Federal capital. Perhaps, again, the poor creature is merely conscious that he is marching to his Sedan.
There is doubtless some obscure symbolism in the rabbit which has raised its head half out of the mouth of its burrow, in the background, although a magnifying glass is required to reveal the fact that this rabbit has one eye on the kangaroo. It may possibly stand for an intelligent minority keeping watch on a large and foolish majority, but the symbolism is not clear. What is clear is that the whole thing has a grotesquely foolish look, and that not a hint of beauty or dignity is discoverable in it.
It will be said, no doubt, that the ugliness of a postage stamp is a matter of no moment. Mr. Frazer evidently does not take that view, since he has given time and thought to the question, and expended some of the public money on the effort to have a good stamp. And he is so far right; there is really a good deal of significance in the heraldry of the post office. Our postage stamps go all over the world; they become, in course of time, a sort of national symbols; and it is therefore very annoying to find that our country is to be represented in the eyes of the world by a grotesque and ridiculous symbol, and that she will be a laughing-stock even to childish stamp-collectors of every nation.
Mr. Frazer has no good reason for departing from Imperial usage in this matter. Australia should do as the rest of the Dominions do; we should all alike have the King’s head printed on our stamps, because it is the most obvious and unmistakable symbol of the constitutional bond between the various members of our far-scattered empire. But even if Mr. Frazer entertains republican sentiments, and thinks it his duty to express them by means of the national stamp, he might surely have found some heraldic device more noble and dignified than that absurd kangaroo and that humorous rabbit.
It will be very unpleasant to reflect every time we post a letter that we are sending out to the world a pink or blue or yellow embodiment of the artistic incapacity of our country. But the die is not yet cast, either literally or metaphorically; and possibly the public derision which Mr. Frazer’s artistic attempt is sure to excite may induce him to pause before it is too late.
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 4 April 1912, p. 6, column 3
Cambridge Gulf = a gulf on the north-east coast of Western Australia, in the Kimberley region (the entrance to the Cambridge Gulf has Cape Domett on its eastern shore, Cape Dussejour on its western shore, and Lacrosse Island situated in the middle); it was named after Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge (1774-1850), the tenth child of George III of Great Britain
See: “Cambridge Gulf”, Wikipedia
Commonwealth = of or relating to the Commonwealth of Australia
Dominion = (in the context of the British Empire) one of the British Dominions (Australia, Canada, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland, New Zealand, South Africa), being those countries of the British Empire which were self-governed
dyspepsia = indigestion, bad digestion, impaired digestion, an upset stomach caused by a difficulty with the digestion of food, any mild disorder of digestive function (including heartburn, nausea, stomach discomfort, or stomach pain, especially as experienced after a meal); derived from the Greek prefix “dys” (meaning “faulty” or “impaired”) and “pessein” (meaning “to cook” or “to digest”); disgruntlement, ill humor
Federal capital = in the context of Australia, Canberra
Imperial = in the context of early Australia, regarding the British Empire
piebald = an animal (especially a horse) which has irregular patches of two colours, typically coloured with large patches of black and white
[Editor: The quotation marks within a quotation (placed at the start of each typographical line, as a matter of publishing style) have been removed.]
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