Of the many pleasures that come with stamp collecting, learning about culture in any given era stands near the top. Commemorative stamps showcasing artists, musicians, dancers and writers remind society of the things it values…or once valued. Incumbent upon the governments that issue these stamps is a sensitivity to public thinking and national perception. The Australia Post learned this lesson the hard way when it produced stamps honoring a most famous rock band of its native soil — AC/DC.
The Australia Post and Culture
The Australian Postal Corporation (commonly called the Australia Post) is a government-chartered company that, among other things, operates mail and parcel service through post offices all over Australia. As such, it regulates postage values and issues stamps of varying worth. Like counterparts in other countries, the Australia Post includes among its array of stamps those prints that pay respect to myriad aspects of Australian life and history.
Prominent among its stamp offerings are sheets displaying the Great Barrier Reef, native reptile life, off-coast islands and even new currency notes. Its cultural representations include Olivia Newton-John in Grease, selections of Australian street art and a salute to AC/DC (more on this shortly). Even aviation successes, native zodiac characters and the Aussie alphabet find their way onto commemorative sheets. This is a veritable feast for passionate philatelists.
From finches and flowers to cricket matches and war memorials, these stamps celebrate the many assets possessed by the Land Down Under. Like any postal service, the Australia Post seeks to earn revenue while appealing to nationalism, patriotism and local pride. In so doing, it takes great care to maintain a finger on the collective pulse of the nation. Otherwise, it might become embroiled in a national uprising, as it has found itself regarding its recently issued AC/DC stamps.
American, or “Un-Australian”
AC/DC is a Sydney-born rock band that dates back to 1973. During its 45 years of touring, recording and performing, the group experienced some turnover in personnel, but maintained a very large fan base the world over. Its top-selling records include High Voltage, Highway to Hell and — more recently — Black Ice. All in, they have sold over 200 million albums globally, with a large plurality purchased in the United States.
Perhaps this is why the Australia Post imposed the American album covers on its new AC/DC stamps rather than those covers released in Australia, the band’s home and origin. Whatever the reason, the public reception at home is not enthusiastic. In fact, Australians are downright irate over the slight. One radio DJ denounced the postal service, calling it the “un-Australian Post.” This error in judgment regarding AC/DC stamps comes on the heels of another perceived diss: the prime minister was unable to identify any AC/DC song in a radio interview.
Nevertheless, the Australia Post is heretofore standing its ground, proud that an Aussie band sells so well in other parts of the world. Spokespeople for the service contend that the AC/DC stamps pay homage to the band by recognizing its power of international attraction. Time will tell whether this argument gains traction.
To those unfamiliar with stamp collecting, this controversy might seem overblown. Given the history and mission of stamp issuance–in Australia and around the world–the matter of the AC/DC stamps is nonetheless significant. Whatever the music group’s following worldwide, Australians believe the AC/DC stamps should reflect the Australian experience. Collectors should jump at these now in case they are pulled from circulation.