This is part one of a two-part series on the first day covers and postage stamps issued in 1985 celebrating the first official air mail from Australia to the Territory of Papua and the United Nations Trust Territory of New Guinea and return and also from Australia to New Zealand and return in 1934. PNG postage stamps are legendary in the world of philatelic collections. Why? Among other reasons, it’s for their uniqueness, exotic beauty, design and presentation. They do stand out, stamped with international approval and awards!
By BIGA LEBASI
POSTAGE stamp collecting became the trend in my class during June 1952 back on my island home of Kwato, the boomerang-shaped gem floating below Mt Nenegedu on the larger neighbouring island of Logea.And tiny blobs of pearls like Dekadeka, Bonaluahilihili, Ebuma, Gonubalabala and Samarai island floats closer to the biggest island, Saliba.
Samarai, the then Milne Bay District headquarters, was in the 1930s dubbed “Pearl of the Pacific” by the commissioned writer for the London Times and the Sydney Morning Herald, globe-trotting Irish freelancer Beatrice Grimshaw. She had in the 1920s and 30s, settled along the south bank of the Laloki River, Sogeri plateau track near Port Moresby and also near where we lived upstream from 1975 to 2016 and then Taubada Taubadasaku Lawrence Stephens drifted into our territorial realm at 17-Mile.
Erroll Flynn, a coffee planter from Tasmania, was Grimshaw’s neighbour who sold his plantation to her before his Hollywood debut for fame and fortune. She also owned and managed the Matadona coconut estate on mainland Papua near China Strait and Samarai.
Between Matadona and Samarai is Kwato…in the 1950s, the pearl was sadly, already on her downward slide to olde age, wrinkling fast to careless disarray and ruin. Kapole! (Nostalgia plus in Suau/Tawala).
The flying boats! The Catalina or Cat’ and the Sandringham! How can I forget the excitement whenever the flights from Port Moresby droned over our Kwato Mission school house,’ shaking it up and down to its very foundations, and it’s shadow momentarily passing over our screaming voices as it would fly low for landing between Samarai and little Ebuma isle and..we would imagine the Cat’ touching down conceiving a display of slow aerial manoeuvres and finally splashing and dispatching millions of sparkling bubbles and flying spray, leaving a wake as she gradually loses speed. ..the engine’s cut.
The props stop rotating. And the amphibian would nose its way with the nauwa (current) up towards the waiting buoy for the in-flight navigator to reach out to hook up for anchorage. At lunch time arrivals at Samarai, the entire AH Bunting shop, Burns Philp (BPs) and Steamships (STC) dimdim (caucasian) staff and a sprinkling of coffee-coloured folks would throng the small verandah to standing-room status to rudely stare at the latest city slickers disembarking from Australia, New Zealand and Port Moresby and with the company of OHMS (On Her Majesty’s Service) mail bag!
Stamps from Australia! Devoted Kwato Mission teachers, either Halliday Beavis or Sheila Abel, would gently open the bulging brown Manila OHMS envelope to reveal our ‘papers’ from The Blackriars Correspondence School far away ‘down south’ in Sydney.
Our goggled pair of nine-year-old eyes would zero onto the top right hand corner of the now empty envelope.
Never mind our returned composition corrected by our faceless teacher from down south. She was called Miss Lamb: we had always associated her with merino sheep (‘Australia rides on the sheep’s back’ slogan) and I would laugh secretly whenever I notice her stamped approvals on my corrected papers or imprinting disappointing words of warning to watch my tenses, and spelling too! Then we saw the stamps…
“My stamp from Sydney, the Aboriginal Albert Namatjirra the painter, Shiela?”
“What about saying PLEASE first, really Biga?” Ewa! We bowed our bighead in shame – and our cousin Caesar (or the cliched Suau “Sisa”) stifled his laughter and chucked a cheeky ‘serves you right’ in body language at me! I was livid, and sinking in a sea of humiliation – not from Sinebada Sheila – but from the very late Roman Emperor Julius Caesar’s self-appointed Suau native namesake!
1953: Oh, more first day covers coming soon to celebrate Papua’s Princess Elizabeth the 2nd’s Coronation confirmed by royal bulletin from Buckingham Palace beautifully located in stately gardens, parks, terraces and avenues with corgis and peacocks strutting by.. .the BBC special and the beautiful well-modulated English from the announcer’s clipped accent beamed across the length and breadth of the British Empire.
June 2, 1953, the scheduled big day: the countdown began with promised commemorative postage stamps, brochures, flags, tea towels, headwear, brollies, pamphlets and other memorabilia. Oh dear reader. Again, sorry we digressed!
Now let’s look at the 50th anniversary (on July 24, 1984) of the first official airmail organised by the Australian Post (PO) to the Australian Territory of Papua (ATP) and the United Nations Trust Territory of New Guinea (UNTTNG).
According to a copy of a research report we dug out from our personal ‘archives’ this was what had occurred regarding the celebratory first day covers, and we duly comply to compile a yarn from the report..
“The first official air mail between Australia and New Zealand (NZ) was carried on a flight made from NZ to Australia by Charles Ulm (see Weekender Page 4 Friday Nov 9, 2018 edition: Ulm blazed the airmail path to PNG By Nelson Eustis) in ‘Faith in Australia’, in February 1934.
In July of that year Ulm, again piloting the same aeroplane, flew the first official airmail from Australia to New Guinea: that was Australian Territory of Papua (ATP) and the UNTTNG. A se-tenant pair of stamps was issued in the large 50mm x 30mm size usually associated with high value definitive, with the zone 1 air mail denomination applicable to both NZ and PNG.
Featured on the stamps are a portrait of Charles Ulm based on a previously unpublished photograph supplied by his son, and his plane, the ‘Faith in Australia’. Each stamp also includes a reproduction of an ‘official’ first day cover carried on each of the first official flights.
This is the first reproduction of covers on Australian stamps. The stamps were designed by Graham Back of Sydney with typography by Jon Quinn of Melbourne, and were issued on Feb 22, 1984.
Both the NZ and PNG postal administration were approached by Australia Post concerning reciprocal commemorative stamps. Australia Post had been advised that PNG would make an issue on four stamps focusing on this anniversary, featuring the ‘Faith in Australia’ and three other planes used to carry mail between Australia and PNG in the 1930s. They were issued on July 27, 1984. No stamp was to be issued on this anniversary.
Among the notable flights Ulm made in the ‘Faith in Australia’ were:
- Feb 17, 1934 first official air mail, NZ to Australia.
- April 11-12, 1934 first official air mail Australia to NZ;
July 24-26, 1934 first official air mail, Australia to PNG.
Ulm with his crew were lost at sea near Honolulu, Hawaii, USA between Dec 3 and4, while attempting a Pacific crossing from America to Australia. Charles Ulm was portrayed with the ‘Southern Cross’ on the ‘Australian Aviators’ stamp issue in 1978, designed by Arthur Leydin.
Next Friday: Crossing the Tasman with the first air mail.
Taylor, P.G. VH-UXX; the story of an aeroplane. Angus and Robertson, 1937.
Mathieson, A.G. ‘Famous Australian mail planes. (2) VH-UXX ‘Faith in Australia’. Supplement to the Bulletin v.29 no.6 Sept 1974.
Eustis, Nelson ed. The Australian airmail catalogue, third edition, Melbourne, Hawthorne Press, 1976.
Credit and appreciation are given to the above for the compilation and reproduction of the airmail series by The National and freelancer Biga Lebasi.