An antipodean paradise

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Enriched by a globally-envied outdoors lifestyle, international sports recognition, and a host of beloved famous faces – from the humourist Clive James to songstress Kylie Minogue – Australians have emerged from a troubling past as one of the globe’s leading cultures and the Earth’s 12th largest national economy.

The twisty road to the world’s stage is a tumultuous tale of old world marrying new. To this day the history of Indigenous Australians – who inhabited the colossal island for over 50,000 years before British colonisation – is little heard or understood and is only now starting to garner the cultural traction it surely deserves.

In terms of Western-viewed history: after a series of seminal texts (including the 1688 diaristic voyages of English buccaneer William Dampier) persuaded the British government to back ventures into the untapped southern hemisphere, Captain James Cook and the crew of the HMS Endeavour claimed the frilled shores of south-eastern Australia in 1770 and New South Wales was born.

Yet even under British rule, Australia was far from a flamboyant feather in the Empire’s cap. British colonisation began with the transportation of felons, many from the recently lost colonies of North America, and by 1830 over 50,000 convicts had come to Australia. In the coming years a foundation for British sea power in the eastern seas rose with six, interconnected colonies: Western Australia, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, and New South Wales.

From the mid-19th century, autonomous parliamentary democracies were established in each of the colonies and in 1901 a referendum to unite into a federation succeeded and modern Australia came into being. Supported by economic migrants from more than 200 countries, since the end of World War II, the population has increased to more than 24 million.

Appropriately, collectable Australian stamps are as diverse as the motherland, presenting quality items for philatelists both nascent and experienced. Stamps depicting the natural joys of the island, including a series on native animals based on the photographs of John Watt Beattie – the vibrant and controversial Kangaroo and Map stamp, for instance – stand out most, though it is also worth studying the Tasmanian stamps labelled Van Diemen’s Land. Issued between 1853 and 1857 and named after the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, these are some of the first stamps produced to forego the stylised portrayal of British monarchs.