Previous Find of the Month - 3/2019

March 2019

ACT Bicentennial Number Plates

An A1 idea

In 1988 all across Australia events were underway marking the anniversary of our bicentenary. Planned on a national scale, with cooperation between the Commonwealth and the state governments, events included World Expo 88, the First Fleet Re-enactment Voyage, and the opening of our new Parliament House. To mark the occasion, the ACT Administration released not one but two special number plates in celebration. The first release was designed for the general public, with plates available from the Motor Registry from 4 January 1988. The second release offered a unique opportunity to purchase a limited edition plate at auction.

Licence plate aficionados, history buffs and local celebrities flocked to the Albert Hall on 21 July 1988 to try their hand at winning one of this limited run of number plates, with only the numbers A1 to A200, and two special plates of A1788 and A1988 on offer. The plates were displayed pre-auction at the new Civic ACT Administration shopfront which opened a few weeks before the auction took place.

Personalised licence plates are gaining in popularity, and the sale of unique or historic plates can prove quite an investment, with sales recorded of upwards of two million dollars. For this reason records documenting the preparation for auction of the ACT Bicentennial number plates were chosen as ArchivesACT’s Find of the Month for March.

‘Living Together’

In 1988 Australia was busy celebrating the bicentenary year of the European settlement of Australia and the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. Years of planning by the Australian Bicentennial Authority (ABA) culminated in a vast number of ceremonies, events and exhibits delivered across the whole of Australia. We held bicentennial competitions, races and even national polls, including one naming Don Bradman to be the top Aussie sportsman of the last 200 years. Rural and regional Australians were treated to a travelling exhibition celebrating the past, present and future of Australia, which worked 24/7 across the year to visit over 30 towns and cities. And on Australia Day, almost three million people lined the shores and waterways of Sydney Harbour to watch the re-enactment of the arrival of the First Fleet, winning it the bicentenary’s ‘most popular event’ award and the title of Australia’s biggest live spectator event.

World Expo ’88 in Brisbane was the largest of the bicentennial events, attracting over 15 million visitors. Canberra was well represented at Expo with its own pavilion. September 11 was designated ‘Canberra Day’ and included a flag raising ceremony and televised concert featuring a locally developed program and some of our talented local performers.

The Canberra team performing at our pavilion (Source: ArchivesACT)

The bicentenary was described by the chairman of the ABA as a means of ‘strengthening national unity’, however, the theme was varied twice with changes of government, becoming for a short period ‘The Australian Achievement’, returning to ‘Living Together’ and then finally being known as ‘The Celebration of a Nation’. While Australians love a party, the bicentenary possibly raised more questions of local identity than it answered, with the point of the anniversary being subjected to heated debate. Upon the arrival of the re-enacted fleet, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the chairman of the NSW Bicentennial Council stated that:

Today we recognise, clearer than before, the traditional owners were dispossessed, and 1988 offers the opportunity to alleviate those disadvantages of Aborigines and all other Australians who suffer disadvantages.

Gotta have some hot stuff

Bicentennial fever saw the production of all sorts of products, from the Bicentennial First Edition Australian Bible to Holden’s Bicentennial Commodore, the Series 200, which featured gold paintwork and special body stripes.

Go to Australia Post

1988 Bicentennial Stamp (Source: Australia Post)

Commemorative products were produced by both the Commonwealth and state governments. The ABA released a list of official merchandise with over 50 items including scarves, stubby holders, ties, drink coasters and pewter tankards. The Australian Mint produced a special $10 banknote and sets of coins. Australia Post released themed stamps, including the one featured above which includes the official motto and bicentennial logo. Bicentennial babies were even treated with their own special birth certificates.

Our international neighbours and friends also found ways to offer Australia their congratulations. Presents were sent and royal visits abounded. The British Government gifted us with two million dollars to spend on the festivities and Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip came to open both the World Expo and Parliament House.

Go to Mystic Stamp website to view more

Stamp issued by USA in 1988 (Source: Mystic Stamp Company)

Closer to home the ACT Administration was proud to announce its own bicentennial gifts. This included the first ever Floriade which, with its mass of colour was suggested by Minister Clyde Holding to represent our multicultural background:

The Floriade will remind us that this region, the ACT, and particularly the Snowy, was settled by people from many countries and a variety of cultures and backgrounds. This will be symbolised by a display of national flags and special events over the four Sundays which will bring together ethnic communities and other groups in celebrations of the Bicentenary.

Baby you can drive my car

The ACT Administration decided to provide car owners with the opportunity to own a special bicentennial number plate. Designed by Mitchell Giurgola and Thorp, the architects of the new Parliament House, the plates in this first release were designed for the general public. These were issued to cars needing new plates in 1988, and were also available as replacement plates for a fee of $13.00. Available from 4 January 1988, six of the first sets of plates were given away as part of Operation Countdown, a program run by ACT Police over the Christmas period in 1987 to reward good drivers. The award was presented at the Dickson Motor Registry on the 8th January with one recipient so keen that she changed her plates in the carpark.

Go to article at Plate Planet

ACT Bicentennial number plate (Source: Plate planet)

Going once… going twice…

The original auction for the second release of special plates was to take place in March 1988 but the delivery of the plates was delayed and the date was moved to 21 July 1988.

Go to accessible PDF

Approval to proceed with new date (Source: 88/1962)

The auction was widely advertised, and the Canberra Times reported an excellent turnout with standing room only and a carpark featuring everything from Ferraris to Utes. The auction room itself which drew a mix of suits, celebrities and locals.

Auction Poster (Source: 88/1962)

The first piece to be auctioned was the A1 plate. After a quick haggle it was sold to local real estate agent Philip Kouvelis for the highest price of the day at $20,000. The A2 went for half as much and altogether the sales on the day increased the ACT Administration’s coffers by $446,000.

Go to accessible PDF

Terms and Conditions (Source: 88/1962)

After the bidding was done, the successful bidders were given a fortnight to make the final payment on their purchase. Nine plates were not collected and locals enjoyed a second chance when an auction was held in September for their resale. For the next few months these plates occasionally popped up as auction items at charity events and in raffles.

It is difficult to know how much one of these plates would go for now, as we were unable to find one on the open market, but with prices for regular issue bicentenary plates going for around $2000, we can only imagine what an exclusive plate could achieve.

Have you spotted a bicentennial number plate? Do you own one?

Drop us a line at or tweet a photo and don’t forget to include @ArchivesACT.

Ready to start your own research?

Contact us through our Request a Record service and we will be happy to help.

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88/1962 - Bicentennial Number Plates Auction - Publishing and marketing material

Links to News Articles

$2m gift from UK (1985, June 3). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 7. Retrieved February 22, 2019, from

30 years on, pomp and protest ( 2018, January 26). The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from

2001 a more momentous occasion than 1988 (1991, January 4). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 7. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from

Advertising (1988, September 18). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 10. Retrieved February 22, 2019, from

An office with a human face (1988, July 13). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 3. Retrieved February 14, 2019, from

Bicentennial Commodore (1988, May 13). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 5 (THE CANBERRA TIMES, WEEKEND SUPPLEMENT). Retrieved February 22, 2019, from

Bicentennial Exhibition The travelling exhibition is here (1988, October 16). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 26. Retrieved February 22, 2019, from

Bradman, 30 not out (1988, August 27). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 11 (SECTION D). Retrieved February 22, 2019, from

Certificates to carry bicentennial seal (1988, January 11). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 3. Retrieved February 22, 2019, from

Dandy day for Cerchi at Flemington (1988, March 15). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 22. Retrieved February 22, 2019, from

Dinkum Bible sells out in first week (1988, April 20). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 30. Retrieved February 22, 2019, from

Number plates resold (1988, September 14). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 2. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from

One number plate, at $20,000 (1988, July 22). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 1. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from

Plates for polite drivers (1988, January 9). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 8. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from

Queen opens Australia's permanent Parliament building (1988, May 10). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 1. Retrieved February 22, 2019, from

SAFE DRIVING FOR SUMMER Police campaign to keep road toll down (1987, December 19). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 19. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from

SELLABRATION OF A NATION (1988, January 21). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 19. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from

The Hyatt plans a huge party (1988, December 14). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 12. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from

The number plates that are worth more than cars (2016, March 2). The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from

The spectacle that almost sank (2013, January 25). The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from

Photo Credits

1988 Bicentennial Stamp (1988), Australia Post. Retrieved from:

Bicentennial Number Plate (1988), Plate Planet. Retrieved from:

Happy Bicentennary Australia! (1988), Mystic Stamp Company. Retrieved from:

Links to External Websites

NSW Licence Plate sold for a record amount - Domain:

Reenactment of the First Fleet - Wikipedia:

World Expo '88 - Wikipedia:

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