Betty Temple Watts developed an interest in birds in her early married life while living in Iran and Papua New Guinea. Although she had studied art as a 19-year-old, it wasn’t until her late 40s, when she settled in Melbourne, Australia, that she decided to focus on bird art completely, and she was producing art well into her late eighties. Betty Temple Watts observed bird species in their natural habitat and made her initial sketches there, adding to the life-like quality of her artwork.
Work began on the 1964–65 definitives at the beginning of 1959, when Temple Watts produced a series of paintings to test out different compositions for producing multi-coloured designs. By this stage, Australia had turned its mind to producing multi-coloured designs, which had become the trend overseas. However, stamp printing facilities in Australia at that time were limited to one-colour intaglio printing. In 1956, two of the stamps issued as part of the XVIth Olympiad Melbourne stamp issue were printed in multi-colour overseas.
With the realisation of the limitations this presented, the Note Printing Branch finally obtained the necessary equipment (albeit requiring a large financial outlay): a Chambon photogravure printing press. (The first multicolour stamp printed and issued in Australia was the 1962 stamp to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Australian Inland Mission.) For the 1964–64 Birds definitive issue, much experimentation went on in terms of colour-combinations and paper, which necessitated many design changes, as did the technical requirements of the new photogravure printing process.
The next Australian philatelic ‘first’ involving bird-themed stamps occurred in 1978, with the release of the first in a series Australian Birds definitive issues (1978–80), designed by Kay Breedon Williams, a highly regarded Australian wildlife artist and co-author and illustrator of seven books on Australian wildlife.
This definitive series was the first decimal stamp issue with denominations ranging from 1c to $1. They were (in order of issue): 5c Hooded Dotterel; 20c Little Grebe; 25c Spurwing Plover; 30c Pied Oystercatcher; 55c Lotus-bird; 1c Zebra Finch; 2c Crimson Finch; 15c Forest Kingfisher; 20c Eastern Yellow Robin; 40c Lovely Wren; 50c Flame Robin; 22c White Tailed Kingfisher; 28c Rainbow Bird; 60c King Parrot; 10c Golden Shouldered Parrot; 35c Regent Bower Bird; 45c Masked Woodswallow; 80c Rainbow Pitta; $1 Western Magpie; and 18c Spotted Catbird.