World Stamps

Australian Antarctic Territory stamps recount story of Macquarie Island

May 2, 2021, 10 PM

Stamps Down Under — By Janet Klug

Have you ever put together a collection of stamps for a place that doesn’t issue its own stamps? Such a collection could be assembled for an island named Macquarie, a place you might have never heard of.

Macquarie Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a sub-Antarctic island located in the Pacific sector of the Southern Ocean, approximately halfway between Tasmania and Antarctica. That distance is approximately 930 miles, but in good weather it takes about three days to reach Macquarie Island from Hobart, Tasmania.

The island is about 21 miles long and 3 miles wide.

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The uninhabited island was found and claimed for Great Britain in 1810, and annexed to the colony of New South Wales. It was named after Col. Lachlan Macquarie, governor of New South Wales from 1810-21.

Macquarie Island was politically part of Tasmania beginning in 1900, and became a Tasmanian State Reserve in 1978.

The island received UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1997, in recognition of its unique geology. It is the only island in the world made up entirely of oceanic crust and rocks from the Earth’s mantle, deep below the surface.

The island’s natural biodiversity also is unique. In 1933, authorities declared the island a wildlife sanctuary as part of the Tasmanian Animals and Birds Protection Act of 1928.

From 1911-14, the island was a base for the Australian Antarctic Expedition under Sir Douglas Mawson, a geologist and explorer commemorated on Australian Antarctic Territory Scott L111-L114, a set of four stamps issued in 1999.

Scientific research and long-term monitoring programs have been conducted on Macquarie Island since the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE) research station was established in 1948, almost 70 years ago.

Between 2000 and 2016, 347 scientists conducted 108 projects on Macquarie Island, most recently concentrating on aspects of climate change.

Although Macquarie Island has created local stamps and cinderella issues (which resemble postage stamps, but are not postage), its legitimate postage stamps, mostly portraying natural features of Macquarie Island, are issued by Australia Post on behalf of Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT).

Many of the Macquarie Island subjects found on AAT stamps are animals that populate the island, including penguins, seabirds, and seals.

The king penguins’ breeding population in pairs on Macquarie is estimated at 150,000 to 170,000. That is a lot of penguins. The king penguins prefer to do their breeding on Macquarie Island, which is a warmer place than Antarctica.

Other Macquarie Island penguins include royal and emperor penguins, gentoo penguins, southern rockhopper penguins, and Macquarie shag penguins.

Other animals of Macquarie Island are as fascinating as the penguins. An elephant seal and pup are depicted on Scott L84, a 75¢ stamp issued in 1992.

Two leopard seals and penguins in the water are shown on Scott L118c, a 45¢ stamp from 2001, and another stamp in that set (L118b) shows a leopard seal and a penguin on the ice.

A very captivating story commonly known as “The Dogs That Saved Macquarie Island” was illustrated nicely on a set of four stamps on a 2015 souvenir sheet (Scott L195b).

The tale behind these stamps started with a huge number of rabbits, rodents, and feral cats — descendants of non-native creatures that had been brought to the island. As we know, rabbits breed fast and furiously, and the feral cats were causing problems with the native birds.

The Australian government established a seven-year, $25 million campaign to eradicate the rabbits and any other non-native species that had been imported to Macquarie Island. These introduced pests had nearly destroyed the unique habitat of Macquarie.

Many methods were tried but failed. In 2002 it was confirmed that the feral cats had been eradicated, and a baiting program for the rabbits in 2011 was followed up by dogs on the ground in 2013 and 2014, searching to ensure that all the rabbits were gone.

Twelve “rabbit-detector” dogs — including springer spaniels, Labradors, and terriers, working under the harsh environmental conditions — found 13 surviving rabbits, whose speedy reproduction soon would have meant the long and expensive eradication program had been for nothing.

The island is now free of the devastation-causing invaders. Who said Macquarie Island was going to the dogs? It was smart, hardworking dogs that saved Macquarie Island.

Their story and the many stunning images of the unique World Heritage Site on stamps can be delightful and beautiful additions to your collection.

New issues of the Australian Antarctic Territory are available from Australia Post.

For more information about this collecting area, see the American Society of Polar Philatelists’ website, or contact ASPP secretary Alan Warren, Box 39, Exton, PA 19341-0039.