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COCOS ISLANDS by AIR MAIL to WOODSTOCK, VERMONT, U.S.A.

This cover has an AIR MAIL vignette in English, French, Chinese and Arabic and has 4 stamps totaling 2/- (shillings) comprising the green 1/- platypus, brown 6d kookaburra, purple1d Q.E. and the blue 5d Australian Antarctic Territory Explorers at the Magnetic South Pole stamp, cancelled with 2 copies of the COCOS (KEELING) ISLANDS/ INDIAN/ 2 11 AU 61 2/ OCEAN/ AUST postmark. The reverse has no postal markings, but the senders name is typed as L. SAYERS/ COCOS ISLANDS. It is addressed to Woodstock, Vermont, U.S.A. (Figure 1).

The unusual configuration of this postmark was in use from 21-05-57 until 31-08-79, and exists with numbers 1, 2 and 3 (Figure 2).

The cover is of no help with the air mail routing, but via Singapore, Darwin or another Australian capital city are likely, perhaps Perth for the Cocos Islands were administered for postal purposes through Western Australia from 1955 until 1979, when it was transferred to local control on 31-08-79. The islands were discovered in 1609 by William Keeling, a British mariner of the East India Company, and they were first settled in 1826-31 by an adventurer, Alexander Hare, who brought his Malay harem and slaves. In 1827 John Clunies-Ross a Scotsman settled with his family and improved the natural coconut groves. It was declared a British possession in 1857, was placed under the Governor of Ceylon in 1878, and attached to the Straits Settlements in 1882, and then attached to Singapore in 1903.

In 1886 the Cocos Islands were granted in perpetuity to the Clunies-Ross family, a grant that was honoured when the islands passed to Australia in 1955. In late 1972 John Clunies Ross agreed to relinquish his authority over the islands to Australia. During World War 2, when Singapore was in the hands of the Japanese, they were placed in the hands of Ceylon under military administration. When Singapore became independent in 1955, this was the timing for their transfer to Australia as an External Administered Territory. The Cocos Islands has used stamps of Straits Settlements, Singapore and Australia and Cocos Islands own stamps resumed 9 July 1969. Note: Cocos did use their own stamps, the 1963 definitive set of 6, and their own 6d Anzac stamp, but when Australia went to decimal postage, Cocos Islands stamps were temporarily ceased, until the issue of their 12 decimal definitives in 1969.

This isolated external territory of Australia is in the east Indian Ocean 2,300 miles (3,700 km) west of Darwin and 800 miles (1280 km) west-south-west of Singapore. It is comprised of 2 coral atolls, the southern composed of 27 islets and the northern one, only North Keeling Island. The territory has a total land area of 5½ square miles. Except for the imported plants, the vegetation is chiefly coconut palms. There are no indigenous mammals, but sea birds abound. Periodic earthquakes are experienced. The site of the Cocos Islands is seen in Figure 3.

Charles Darwin made coral-reef observations there in 1836; the German cruiser Emden was destroyed by the Australian cruiser Sydney on the shore of North Keeling Island in 1914; an air-strip was built on West Island in 1945 and has been used as a stopping place for flights between Perth and Johannesburg; it is used as a meteorological weather station for a large portion of the Indian Ocean. The inhabitants numbered 618 in 1971, predominantly Malays and members of the Clunies-Ross family, and all are engaged on coconut plantations. In 1947 the Malay population was ca. 1800 and no other figures are available.


 
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