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>From the national philatelic collection

Explorers of Australia Burke and Wills 26 September 1983

The 1983 Explorers of Australia stamps honoured the achievements of five explorers, none of whom had been previously featured on an Australian stamp. Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills: The 1860–61 Burke and Wills expedition, organized by the Royal Society of Victoria and sponsored by the Victorian government, aimed to be the first to cross the Australian continent from south to north, but it ended in disaster for the two expedition leaders.

Alexander Forrest

Ludwig Leichhardt

Sir Paul Strezlecki

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>From the National Philatelic Collection


Preliminary design by Connell Lee (not adopted).

In October 1981, Australia Post’s Stamp Advisory Committee considered preliminary designs of the Explorers of Australia stamps by two artists, Connell Lee and Dianne Quinn. Connell Lee submitted two watercolour paintings of Alexander Forrest and Dianne Quinn’s work featured clay sculptures of the heads of explorers, Forrest and Leichhardt. The Stamp Advisory Committee preferred Dianne Quinn’s approach. Consequently, she was commissioned to prepare stamp designs featuring sculptured heads of the other explorers. This was the first time sculpture was commissioned by Australia Post to be featured on stamps. Connell Lee’s designs were not adopted. An interesting aspect to the story, at this stage, involved the portrait of Alexander Forrest. The two artists had been originally supplied with a portrait engraving taken from The Picturesque Atlas of Australia (1888), captioned as being Alexander Forrest. In fact, the engraving featured his brother, John Forrest (1847–1918), who was also a noted explorer. The error was detected at a later stage and a correct portrait was obtained for a new sculptured head.

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>From the National Philatelic Collection

Development of the Burke and Wills Design

Dianne Quinn’s sculptured clay portraits.

Typography by Jon Quinn.

The reference source used by the stamp artist Dianne Quinn to mould the sculptured heads of Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills was the statue of the two explorers located at the corner of Swanston and Collins Streets, Melbourne. The artist worked from photographs of the statue’s heads to produce separate clay sculptures of Burke and Wills. The sculptures were photographed while still wet and unfired; the images forming the basis of the stamp designs. The typographical design of the stamps was undertaken by the artist’s husband, Jon Quinn. Different colour backgrounds helped to differentiate the four stamp subjects. When the Stamp Advisory Committee viewed the initial Burke & Wills design, it was felt the Burke sculpture should be re-photographed to lighten up the explorer’s head. However, to this end, it was necessary to produce a new clay sculpture. (The sculptures that had been fired had become a different colour.)

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The approved proof sheet features the signature of an Australia Post Philatelic official in the right margin. The stamp was issued to post offices as sheets of 100, comprising two panes of 50, each separated by a central gutter. The gutter incorporated four colour spots, representing the four colours used to print the stamp image. The sheet shown here represents the right-hand pane of 50 stamps.

Explorers of Australia first day cover features the Philatelic Bureau, Melbourne first day of issue postmark of 26 September 1983.

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>From the National Philatelic Collection

The artist

Dianne Quinn sculpting the clay portraits

Dianne Quinn (nĂŠe Coulter) was born in 1948 and studied art in Melbourne. She traveled overseas between 1969 and 1973, spending much of 1972 in Paris. Her first one-man show was in 1976 at the Bartoni Gallery, Melbourne. In 2009, Dianne Coulter (as she is known today) won the Blake Prize for Human Justice, with Cousin of Elizabeth, NT. Her work is represented in the Shepparton Regional Gallery and in private collections in Australia, Hong Kong, France, the United States, Italy and Japan.

Explorers of Australia Burke and Wills