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Apr 30

Review: The Stamp of Australia by Kelly Burke

I received this book for free from ARC received from publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Stamp of Australia by Kelly BurkeThe Stamp of Australia by Kelly Burke
Published by Allen & Unwin on 2009
Genres: history, non-fiction
Pages: 272
Source: ARC received from publisher
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The story of Australia's postal services - now two hundred years old - is the story of Australia itself. At first, a small huddle of colonists awaited letters from England, which most of them regarded as 'home'. Later, as settlers dispersed, letters kept people in touch with each other over vast distances and difficult terrain. Over the years soldiers wrote back reassuringly from battlefields abroad; lovers shared intimacies; and new waves of immigrants urged those they had left behind to follow them in making a home in a strange land. Australia Post's history mirrors the story of evolving transportation - of the earliest sailing ships carrying their precious packages of letters, of steamers, of Cobb + Co coaches, of the expansion of the railways and the great aviation pioneers. It is a story of evolving technology too - from the creation of the great Overland Telegraph to modern mail sorting, from posties on horseback to present-day motor-cycled deliverers and Express Post whisked across the country by jet.Australia's first postmaster, the ex-convict Isaac Nichols, operated out of a private house on the corner of Sydney's George Street and Circular Quay. His first batch of mail comprised thirty-six letters. Today Australia Post is one of the largest employers in Australia handling 19 million pieces of mail every working day and runs the longest mail run in the world: over 3000 km long for only 88 addresses.The Stamp of Australia is a vivid account of the adventurers, explorers, aviationers and pioneers that found ways to traverse this vast continent, and the history of Australia told through the letters they carried with them.

Despite the fact that I have a (much neglected) stamp collection of my own, I approached reviewing this book with some trepidation. I expected a rather factual presentation of names, dates and places in a kind of extended timeline illustrated with various stamps of significance.

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Stamp of Australia is both interesting and engaging. Not merely an account of stamps issued and the development of Australia Post as a business, it also contains numerous anecdotes and selected personal accounts of letters sent and received.

The story of communication in Australia is very closely entwined with the exploration of the country, making this fascinating as a book about Australian history in general as well as the postal and communication service in particular. The Stamp of Australia is based on a Foxtel History Channel documentary of the same name.

My favourite anecdote by far, is the tragic story of stockman Jimmy Darcy. Darcy was thrown from his horse while mustering cattle in the Kimberley. A 12-hour, 65-kilometre buggy journey to Halls Creek post office saw Darcy receive medical treatment from the most qualified man in town – the postmaster who had completed a St John’s Ambulance course.

Receiving instructions in Morse code via 3674-kilometres of telegraph line, the postmaster Fred Tuckett performed a 7 hour operation to repair Darcy’s ruptured bladder. And I’m annoyed when I have to wait 24 hours to get an appointment with my GP! How times have changed.

This book is likely to appeal most to anyone with an interest in Australian history.

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