Stamps from earlier time periods in Australian history are ideal as a hook into an inquiry learning history project as they provide a unique way of connecting with very specific time periods and can be a wonderful source of historical information – particularly if you can track down an old stamp collection from somewhere, or put together a series of stamp images for students to view on an interactive whiteboard.
If you have a collection available for students to use, they can be collected, catalogued and arranged according to their series, the date they were produced or who or what they depict in their imagery.
Students who are interested in digital image production can also learn about the changes in production methods as more sophisticated printing gradually allowed for the use of a greater colour range.
Students can easily access information about Australian stamps to help with their historical research, and there is lots of published information available about when stamps were produced, the print runs that were completed for each stamp, who or what the stamp depicts and whether it is a part of a series.
Australia Post has some useful information on their website including a magazine called Stamp Explorer with many back issues available in their archive which can be used as a source of secondary source historical information about stamps.
There is a useful article from National Geographic which provides some background to early Australia stamps, although the language is probably more suited to a teacher audience than a student one.
There are also various philatelic organisations around the world which also offer information on the current value of stamps as well as details about where a stamp is from, what it depicts and why it was created.
Remind students that they should not share personal information or imagery of their stamp collection with others online, as some stamp organisations also buy, sell or trade stamps and are set up to cater to online buyers.
Students may also have access to family stamp collections as often parents or grandparents will have collected stamps in their own childhoods and may still have their original collections, providing a source of first-hand historical information.
This can be a lovely activity to prompt inter-generational discussions about letter writing, communication with people who lived a long way away, the difference between decimal and pre-decimal money or how many people saw stamp collecting as a hobby.
And of course, there is always the possibility of someone finding that special rare stamp in their collection that makes them a fortune!
(Most actually seem to be worth surprisingly little, unless they are part of a set and in unused condition or have been misprinted during their print run).
Early Australian stamps were often tiny, and printed in a limited range of colours.
Several of the earliest sets depict Australian fauna and flora, with the kangaroo, platypus, koala, lyrebird, kookaburra and black swan all included on stamps (1937-8).
The first Commonwealth stamp produced showed a kangaroo against a background of a map of Australia, although this stamp was somewhat controversial, with much debate about whether it was appropriate to produce a stamp which did not show the current monarch.
Key Australian events were also celebrated as stamps, with the opening of Parliament House (1927), the 20th anniversary of the Anzac landings (1935), the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (1932) and the end of World War II (1946) all produced as stamp series.