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Stamp News    November  2012

                              Philately of Epic Proportions 

The Donald Harkness remarkable Kangaroo franking.

This column hasn't appeared since March 2009. Highly franked mail of the kind typically featured previously is, well, thin on the ground. I will attempt to resume the column, the feedback from which was encouraging, on a regular basis in the near future.

In the meantime, I've made a slight departure from the previous standard that subjects should be the highest franked items by airmail to Australia. Whilst the item featured is a stupendous franking, few would argue, it actually never left Australia's shores. This makes it all the more remarkable, for the aggregate franking, easily a record for pre-war Australia, came about as a consequence of comparatively low domestic postal rates (compared to overseas airmail rates), combined with extreme weight.

Now Figure 1 will be somewhat familiar to regular Stamp News readers. It was illustrated, albeit not in full, and prior to a recent professional restoration, by Glen Stephens in the May 2010 edition. Glen at the time suggested I would have "lost the house" if I had bet that such an item couldn't exist. Be that as it may, I can't disagree with Glen's concluding statement on this item: "The relative pittance this item sold for will have us ALL wincing in 10 years".

We may be wincing in a lot less than 10 years, for I have just seen in the flesh the fine restoration bestowed upon this amazing item. Greatly diminished are the creases and tears to the parcel-wrapping, and some bumps, bruises and "war wounds" affecting some of the stamps have received skillful attention. What we now see more accurately resembles how this philatelically essential portion of the whole article appeared in contemporary times.

                            Figure 1:
Kangaroos . . . used the way they were intended

Previously, not enough of the surviving parcel-wrapping was revealed for us to be in a position to determine just why an incredible franking of £17.1.4d came to be affixed. And this on March 25 1933, deep in The Great Depression! So let us unravel the story. Firstly, we can now clearly see at upper left the endorsement "Accepted / Weight / 32lbs / T Hart / Inquiry Office / G.P.O / Sydney", with "£17.1.4" beneath. 32lbs exceeded the limit for parcel post, and the article was therefore required to be charged at full letter rate:

£17.1.4d postage represents: 512ozs. (32lbs) at 2d per oz. Letter rate = 1024d (or £4.5.4d) + Airmail surcharge additional 3d per ½oz. = 3072d (£12.16.0d) = Total: £17.1.4d.

The important stamp denominations, it's previously been stated, are Third wmk. for the £1 grey, and Small multiple wmk. for the £2.

We are indeed fortunate that this item, the record and most remarkable Kangaroo franking extant, retains the essential elements required to confirm origin, destination, postal service utilized, and to determine and confirm the franking. The destination, Newcastle Waters, a 10,353 sq km breeding property in the west Barkly region of the Northern Territory, incidentally, was once owned by the late Kerry Packer.

I rate this survivor against the odds as one of the ten greatest items of Australian Commonwealth Philately. It will be auctioned during Australia 2013 next May, unless sold prior. Auction estimate is $100,000.

                   Inset: Don Harkness competing in Hill climb in 1926. No seatbelts,
                              no safety helmets, but, hey, nice outfits, and shades.

Historical note: The recipient of the original parcel, Donald James Harkness (1898-1972), was a pioneer in the Australian automotive and aeronautical industries, and a record-breaking racing car driver; the first Australian to exceed 100m.p.h. over a measured mile. The subject parcel is believed to have contained an automotive part, dispatched during an endurance trial across northern Australia.