As on this very day, J.G. Griffin, an alderman in Sydney, wrote to James Drake, Postmaster-General in Melbourne to let him know that according to a stamp he had seen, Western Australia had become West Australia!
Now Griffin didn’t suppose that the Commonwealth Government actually intended to change the name of the State – at least not without telling them first – so he suggested that perhaps a small ‘n’ might be added on the next round of printing so as the correct nomenclature would be preserved.
James Drake forwarded the letter on to Robert R. Brain, the Government Printer.
Brain knew about the mistake and had a very good excuse. Brain argued that the space available on the Victorian printing dies was too small for the word ‘Western’ to fit without ‘destroying the appearance of the stamp’. The problem could be remedied in the next printing round at a considerable cost.
Before long, the Premier of Western Australia, Walter James, found out and wrote to Prime Minister Edmund Barton.
James wrote that the mistake was obviously a ‘blunder’ and that he hardly need remind Barton that the official title for the state was ‘Western Australia’. James reasoned that the Commonwealth would hardly consider a deliberate attempt to change the name of the state without consulting him first.
Atlee Hunt, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, replied to James referring to the space issue on the printing dies.
That would be the end of the matter, or so Commonwealth thought.
The Black Swan
Walter James had not finished however.
James hoped that the black “Swan” would continue to feature on the stamps for his state owing to its significance for ‘all Western Australians’ in the history of Western Australia. He would be prepared to pay any extra cost to retain the black swan on future stamps.
James’ reply found its way back to the Postmaster-General’s Department where James Drake crafted a polite, yet pointed, response.
The distinctive black swan could not be retained on the stamp for Western Australia as if this were the case, then other States would also want their unique symbols on their stamps also – such as the Lyre Bird for New South Wales – which would destroy the ‘Commonwealth character of the Post and Telegraph Department.’
Also the black swan was not loved by all in Western Australia. Drake had just read a letter from the “The Empire Patriotic League” requesting that stamps issued by the Commonwealth for Western Australia ought to ‘bear the effigy of H.M. the King as evidence of the loyalty of the people of Australia to the Empire.’
As if changing the name of the state were not bad enough, the Commonwealth clearly did not want to retain anything distinctive about Western Australia, despite James claiming that no other state had such close historical ties to their state symbol as his did.
Unhappy – to say the least – with the outcome, James replied that Barton should check with Sir John Forrest, the first Premier of Western Australia, about what the “The Empire Patriotic League” really was.
“The Empire Patriotic League” consisted of one member, it’s founder, Lyon Weiss, and no value could be found in his opinion whatsoever.
It was merely a ‘one (mad)man league.’