This cover was sent from Victoria by air mail with a the 65 cents yellow faced whip snake (issued in 1982) to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of Thailand, The Grand Palace, Na Phia Lan Road, Bangkok 10200, Thailand, and the reverse was not seen (Figure 1).
Bhumibol was born in Cambridge, Mass. on December 3, 1927, the only Thai monarch to be born overseas. After a short time of primary school in Bangkok the family left for Switzerland in 1933 where he received his Bachelier des Lettres diploma and entered Lausanne University to study science. When his older brother King Ananda Mahidol died in June 1946 he was declared King but his coronation did not take place until May 5, 1950. That year on April 28 he married a first cousin once removed, who became Queen Sirikit. He returned to Switzerland to study political science and law, but was called back to Thailand on account of pressing national needs.
The role of the Thai monarch is pivotal in their society. He is the figure who preserved the Thai State in the presence of repeated external threats, through 200 years of the Chakri Dynasty, and he is also the symbol of the nation. He is the leading supporter of Thai Buddhism, and the stability that he provides through his very presence is what allows swings of political activity and military coups to take place without threatening the fabric of Thai society. There is no question that he is revered.
Traditionally the monarch in Thailand has been considered to be above politics, and initially for years Bhumibol played an inconspicuous political role. He was drawn into current events on occasions to mediate crises (military overthrow of the government) or to negotiate compromises (between the government and opposition). It was a testament to his position and the reverence in which he was held, that he succeeded.
Unlike other Thai monarchs he was a symbol of national unity and of modernity. He visited every province of his country, and suggested infra-structural improvements that might improve the standard of living. His personal work in rural areas was widely acclaimed because of his success in convincing hill tribes to switch their growing of opium to that of vegetables, fruits and coffee. As a result opium cultivation declined 85%. Village roads, electricity and irrigation systems were all part of Bhumibol’s rural development efforts and the modernization of Thai farming.
Because of his broad international training, the king was noted as a devotee of modern music and played the clarinet, as well as he composed music. He is said to have broad cultural interests and he has described himself as “an amateur scientist”. The justification for the latter is seen in his turning over of a substantial portion of his Bangkok residence, the Chitralada Palace into living laboratories where projects were undertaken to improve the standard of living, including livestock improvement, milk production, hybridization of grains, bee keeping, fish breeding, reforestation and various food processing techniques.
Bhumibol is the world’s longest reigning monarch and he celebrated his 50th anniversary on June 9, 1996, so in 2007 he has been 71 years on the throne. He and Queen Sirikit have a son and three daughters, and the Crown Prince Vijiralongkorn has an Australian connection for he was a graduate of the Australian Royal Military Academy in 1975. A photo of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit is seen in Figure 2.