Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dr Pat Baines


In this thesis the use of Aboriginal designs on postage stamps is examined from an anthropological perspective. Firstly the ways in which Australia Post reached decisions to use Aboriginal designs is considered and the protocols for their use examined. The theoretical ideas of Munn on the ownership of designs, and of Morphy and Keen pertaining to the "economy of knowledge" provides an approach for considering the topic. The archival work for the writing of this thesis was conducted in a short visit to the archives of Australia Post. The research showed the practices of Australia Post with regard to using Aboriginal designs reflects the attitudes of anthropologists and museums toward Aboriginal creativity in the respective time periods. The research has also shown that over time whilst Australia Post initially consulted non-Aboriginal experts and used non-Aboriginal designers Australia Post now consults with prominent Aboriginal people and Aboriginal organisations. Australia Post now uses Aboriginal artists to provide designs that are featured on postage stamps. However, Australia Post does not yet appear to appreciate that while designs may be produced by individual artists, the designs are owned on a community basis with a range of people having varying rights. These rights include the right to produce the design, the right to discuss the meaning of the design in it cultural context and the right to restrict the use and discussion of a design. All of these points are central to the notion of an "economy of knowledge" which is the overriding theme of this thesis.