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The Two Pound Black and Rose Kangaroo

The Two Pound Black and Rose Kangaroo

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Published by Ian Irvine (Hobson)
This is a non-fiction, autobiographical (creative N/F) piece dealing with the author's childhood love of philately. Using one of Australia's most famous stamps, the 2 pound Black and Rose, as a symbol the author explores the impact of a work injury (and subsequent court-case) on his family. The migrant experience in Adelaide during the 1970s as well as the importance of forthright union representation for vulnerable workers and their families act as backdrops to the story.
This is a non-fiction, autobiographical (creative N/F) piece dealing with the author's childhood love of philately. Using one of Australia's most famous stamps, the 2 pound Black and Rose, as a symbol the author explores the impact of a work injury (and subsequent court-case) on his family. The migrant experience in Adelaide during the 1970s as well as the importance of forthright union representation for vulnerable workers and their families act as backdrops to the story.

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Published by: Ian Irvine (Hobson) on May 04, 2013
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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11/05/2013

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 The
£2
 
Black andRose Kangaroo
 by Ian Irvine (Hobson)copyright 2013, all rights reserved.
Publisher
: Mercurius Press, Australia, April 2013.
 
When Dad had to work away from Adelaide
in Central Australia
in the early 1970s hesoon began buying my brother and I special gifts with his extra earnings. One night on thephone after complaining about the heat up there
—‘I saw an egg fry on the bonnet of a land
-
rover today!’—
he asked us what we wanted to spend our extra weekly pocket money on.We both an
swered ‘
stamps
. Soon after a deluge of mail-order stamps began arriving in themail every fortnight or so. They came in large, colourful albums, usually from
nations we’d
never even heard of. We noted that animals, plants, oil paintings and famous people
composers, scientists and literary figures
featured often. Although we liked these mailorder collections
mostly for their sheer gaudiness
it was Australian and British stamps weloved the most.The £2 Black and Rose kangaroo is one of the aristocrats of Australian stamps. As atwelve year old living on the outskirts of Adelaide I longed to own a copy. When we begancollecting Australian stamps seriously, Dad agreed to take us to stamp dealers whenever wevisited the city or went on soccer trips to Melbourne and elsewhere.The shop I remember visiting most often was in the seaside suburb of Glenelg
not
far from the wharf. For a time, whenever we went fishing at the wharf, we’d end up at that
stamp dealer
usually late in the morning on a Saturday. Mum would go and buy herself anice-cream and sun bake and Dad, my brother and I would go and peruse Australian stamps.For a while there Andy and I thought we were onto a pretty good thingWhile Dad was earning good money he took a special kind of pleasure taking us tothat shop in Glenelg. He particularly enjoyed asking the stamp man to show us some of themore expensive stamps. The old stamp dealer had thick glasses and always seemed to besquinting through them or over them. He also had stained yellow teeth, and in oneconversation with Dad we found out he was veteran of the Second World War. He alwaysseemed to have a pair of tweezers in his right hand. It fascinated me the way he handled thestamps. He loved them. He had the steady hand of a brain surgeon and could flip stamps inan instant, like a magician with a wand, or a fisherman with a fly-fishing rod.Dad was starting to like South Australia
partly due to the work opportunities andparty due to the outdoor lifestyle. After a hard year in Sydney, working in factories (not
unlike the factories he’d left back in Britain
) Dad believed the lucky country had finally comeup trumps. Due to their hard work saving for a deposit the bank considered Mum and Dadworthy of a housing loan
and soon after we bought a brand new three bedroom brickveneer home on a quarter acre of old farming paddock in the Salisbury area of Adelaide.Mum and Dad were proud of themselves
it showed in the letters they sent hometo family in Britain. Dad was especially happy because the well-paid work meant he couldsend extra money home to the UK to support two sons from his first marriage. What weliked most about the arrangement, however, was the fact that they were able to buy ussome of the more expensive Australian stamps. For a time, whenever we went near thatstamp dealer in Glenelg Dad would spend larger and larger amounts stocking ourcollection
—a kid’s idea of paradise! We were
fast assembling a collection containing allAustralian stamps since Federation. We had our very own pre-decimal Navigator set; weowned a neatly postmarked copy of the £2 Coat of Arms
a striking green stamp worth $18in the catalogue of the day. We owned the 6d Kookaburra, a 10-shilling stamp in mintcondition depicting the queen in long purple robes. We also had the 1971 Primary Industryset in mint condition and on First Day Cover. We had pretty much everything but the 5-shilling Sydney Harbour Bridge and the £2 Black and Rose kangaroo.
 
More than anything, however, I wanted a copy of that black kangaroo sitting inside arose-
red map of Australia. We’d gradually worked our way through all of the lesser stamp
sin the kangaroo set
the 1/2d Orange, the 1d Red, the 6d Chestnut, the 9d Purple, the 5shilling Yellow and Grey (though our copy had a colour flaw that made it a
‘Lemon and
Grey
) and so on. After a time it was only that black and rose kangaroo left to acquire.Each time we asked Dad to buy one of the more expensive stam
ps he’d stand there
as if he were an aristocratic art dealer. Imagine that, a boilermaker, a sprinkler fitter, aformer
builder’s laborer sta
nding there like an art dealer. It was fascinating ritual to watchunfold, and one that a concerned mum increasingly liked to oversee
she tended to be the
realist when it came to the family budget. He’d
study the stamp or stamps we wanted tobuy, then he'd exchange small-talk for a few moments with the dealer. Finally, with a glint inhis eye
and looking at mum as though begging her not to overrule him
—he’d slap down
some money, the full price or a deposit. The more expensive the stamps got the more wetended to have to wait a fortnight or two for them to be paid off. Our collection became theenvy of many of the kids at school.Stamps were very important to me that time. They took me to strange new worlds, theytook me back in time, and they were fuel for a twelve year-
old’s imagination. One moment I
could be back in Yorkshire with my grandparents, the next with the Australian cricket teamin the West Indies. A kid could go anywhere with stamps. Our father understood this flightof the imagination and we loved him for it.The day came when Dad agreed to put the £2 Black and Rose kangaroo on lay by.Every time we went into the shop to make a payment, Andy and I would ask to see it. Westared at it silently for a while with a sense of awe
willing it home to our collection. It was,of course, a symbol of something I only barely understood. To me it seemed to be ancient,infinitely delicate and fine
and beautiful in a rugged sort of way. Looking back, it probablyrepresented the mystery, the vastness, the harshness even of our strange new homelandand the creatures that inhabited it. The stamp introduced me to the totem creature'kangaroo'. Soon, ver
y soon, we’d be able to take it
home.We never did get to take that black kangaroo sitting inside a rose-red map of Australiahome. Dad was half way through the payments when the family finances collapsed. Hecame home from work as a pipe fitter one night in agony. Mum bought some deep heat andgave him a massage. As she worked her fingers into his shoulder muscles he just about
 jumped through the roof, ‘It’s very tender,’ mum said thoughtfully.
 
The company doctor didn’t think it was that bad, ‘Have a few days off, take thesepainkillers and you’ll be back at work in
no time...'
Back at work in no time...
One week later, still sore and by now dosed up on painkillers, Dad did go back to work. Asrequested he carried huge pipes about above his head all day long. He also had to balancethem on his shoulders whilst fellow workers welded them into place or tied them up withsteel wires.
‘A bloke got killed last week ... no safety helmet ... walked underneath two blokes
who were tying stuff up ...
bop
 
... from 100 ft ... just like that, dead...’ Mum would fl
inch

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