The Evolution of the Australian Passport

Early Australian passports are rare to spot. If your collection focus is Australia, you should grab such early documents whenever they appear. Evolution Australian Passport

Australia 1909 passport


The Australian Government first started issuing passports in 1901 following the federation of the colonies

However, Australia’s first federal passport regulations were not introduced until 3 September 1912. And it was another three years before the Australian Government introduced a mandatory passport system for the first time, mainly for manpower and security reasons.

Many people at the time saw this as a temporary wartime measure, to be rescinded after World War I.

But by the mid-1920s, it was clear that an international system of travel documentation was here to stay.

Passport Numbers Evolution Australian Passport

In 1950, Australia issued a total of 30 000 Australian passports. Fifty years later, in 2000, this number had increased to almost 1 450 000. Passport production accounted for 37 tonnes of paper, 95 500 meters of thread, 69 000 meters of gold foil and 1100 liters of glue.

Today, passport offices in Australia and overseas issue around 1.8 million passports a year; and more than 10 million Australians currently hold valid Australian passports, representing just under 50 percent of the population.

Some key developments in the evolution of the Australian passport include:

1912: The Commonwealth Gazette announces the first set of national passport regulations, covering eligibility, validity, and cost.

1916: War Precautions (Passports) Regulations were promulgated, requiring every person over the age of 15 entering and leaving the Commonwealth, to be in possession of a passport.

1917: the ‘X’ series passport, one of Australia’s earliest, was introduced. During World War I, monitoring and identifying those crossing international borders became critical to the security of Australia and its allies.

1920: ‘A’ series passport introduced, with the word ‘Australia’ and the Commonwealth Coat of Arms on the cover.

1937: ‘A’ series of passport covers redesigned to carry the words ‘British Passport Commonwealth of Australia’ and the Commonwealth Coat of Arms.

1938: Passport Act was promulgated, stipulating that passports would now only be issued to British subjects.

1948: Nationality and Citizenship Act passed Evolution Australian Passport

1949: two new passport series were introduced:

  • B Series passports were issued (within Australia only) to British subjects who were not Australian citizens.
  • C Series passports were issued to Australian citizens.

1950: ‘E’ series passport replaces ‘B’ and ‘C’ series.

1964: ‘G’ series passports were introduced, with the British Crown at the top of the cover, the word ‘Australia’ followed by the Commonwealth (Australian) Coat of Arms, and the words ‘British Passport’ at the bottom.

No more British Passport wording on the cover

1967: Australian passport covers no longer carry the words ‘British Passport’ but retain the Crown. The word ‘Australia’ appears below the Crown, followed by the Commonwealth Coat of Arms and the word ‘Passport’.

1975: Responsibility for Australian passport functions transferred to the Department of Foreign Affairs (now the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade), from the then Department of Labor and Immigration.

1980: Computerized Passport Issue and Control System (PICS) launched.

Permission from husband no longer required

1983: Permission of husbands no longer required for the issue of passports to wives.

1984: Passports Act amended to provide that passports can be issued only to Australian citizens. ’T’ series passport introduced, with Crown emblem removed from the cover.

1984: Australian passports include machine-readable information and are the first in the world to have a laminate built into the document.

1984: Passport applications must be lodged personally at an official post office or passport office.

1986: Single identity passports were introduced, meaning children could no longer be included on their parent’s passports.

1988: ‘H’ and ‘J’ series passports were issued with the Bicentennial logo.

1988: Women can no longer apply for and receive a passport in their proposed married names before they are actually married.

1994: Digitized color printing of photograph and signature on the glue side of the laminate introduced.

1995: ‘L’ series passports introduced, with kangaroo motif security laminate. Evolution Australian Passport

2003: ‘M’ series passports issued. Included enhanced security features with the personal data page printed by ink jet onto the adhesive surface of the security laminate.

2005: Passport Act overhauled.

Biometric Passport Features

Starting in October 2005, ‘M’ series passports were issued with biometric or ePassport features. These passports included the electronic passport logo printed beneath the passport number on the personal data page. Additionally, the front cover of these passports was printed in gold ink.

Starting in May 2009, ‘N’ series passports were introduced with biometric or ePassport features. These passports had a distinct black color, as opposed to the traditional blue, and displayed a subtle alteration in font and casing for the word ‘Passport’ on the front cover. The front cover was printed in silver ink. Furthermore, these passports incorporated enhanced security measures, such as a ‘Ghost Image’ and a ‘Retro-Reflective Floating Image’ on the laminated page. Each page within the passport featured various images of Australia, making each visa page unique and significantly more challenging to replicate.

Cutting edge security features

In late June 2014, ‘P’ series passports were introduced with cutting-edge security enhancements, significantly raising the bar for counterfeiting prevention. These passports featured a cover in the colors of the Australian flag, with a distinctive blue hue and a gold embossed design, using state-of-the-art printing technologies akin to those used in Australian banknotes. Notably, these passports incorporated visible security features, including an innovative security laminate with the world’s first color floating image.

Starting in September 2022, ‘R’ series passports were introduced, featuring artwork by Indigenous artists. These passports included a highly secure photo page constructed from layered plastic, enhancing their resistance to forgery and susceptibility to damage. Furthermore, the visa pages within these passports showcased 17 iconic Australian landscapes in stunning, true-to-life colors.

As of May 2023, it was regarded as “the most expensive travel document in the world”, at a cost of AUD$325 per passport.

The history of the Australian passport reflects in many ways the changes that have occurred in Australian society

Major influences on the evolution of the Australian passport have included Australia’s emerging sense of national identity, its diverse multicultural society, and changing attitudes to gender, families, and Indigenous Australians.

International geopolitical and security issues have also had a significant impact. In 2005, Australia became one of the first countries to introduce an ePassport with a digital chip on which the holder’s biographical data is recorded.

Today, Australia is regarded as a world leader in secure passport production and issuance

The Australian Passport Office (APO) of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade seeks to be at the forefront of passport technology, security, and customer service. APO has developed new technology and processes to further improve all aspects of its passport products and service.

Since 1983, APO’s partnership with Australia Post has enabled Australian citizens to apply for passports at most Australia Post outlets. Australia Post provides a nationwide passport service on behalf of APO.

The Australian Passport Information Service (APIS) is operated on behalf of the department by Centrelink and provides a high-quality telephone information service to passport clients seven days a week.

Source: APO

Australian Cold War Passport Issued in Berlin, 1960 for East Germany

The Evolution of the Australian Passport

FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...