Australian Dollar - Design and Denominations

Design and Denominations

Australia was the first country in the world to have a complete system of bank notes made from plastic (polymer). These notes provide much greater security against counterfeiting. They also last four times as long as conventional paper (fibrous) notes. The polymer notes are cleaner than paper notes and easily recyclable.

Australia’s currency comprises coins of 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent and one and two dollar denominations; and notes of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollar denominations.

Many forms of currency were used in the Australian colonies after the arrival of the first European settlers in 1788. In the rough early conditions barter was necessary, and payment in commodities like rum sometimes replaced money in transactions. Some of the first official notes used in Australia were Police Fund Notes, issued by the Bank of New South Wales in 1816.

After federation in 1901, when Australia became an independent nation, the federal government became responsible for the currency. The Australian Bank Notes Act was passed in 1910. In 1913 the first series of Australian notes was issued, based on the old British system of 12 pence to a shilling, 20 shillings to a pound.

In 1963, Australia initiated the change to decimal currency. More than 1000 submissions were made about the name of the new currency unit. The Prime Minister of the day, Sir Robert Menzies, proposed the ‘royal’. The ‘dollar’ was eventually chosen as the name, and decimal currency was introduced on 14 February 1966.

Shortly after the changeover, substantial counterfeiting of $10 notes was detected. This provided an impetus for the Reserve Bank of Australia to develop new note technologies jointly with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

The revolutionary polymer notes were first introduced in 1988 with the issue of a commemorative $10 note, marking Australia’s bicentenary by featuring the theme of settlement. The note depicted on one side a young Aborigine in body paint, with other elements of Aboriginal culture. On the reverse side was the ship Supply from the First Fleet, with a background of Sydney Cove, as well as a group of people to illustrate the diverse backgrounds from which Australia has evolved over 200 years.

  • The $100 note features world-renowned soprano Dame Nellie Melba (1861–1931), and the distinguished soldier, engineer and administrator General Sir John Monash (1865–1931).
  • The $50 note features Aboriginal writer and inventor David Unaipon (1872–1967), and Australia’s first female parliamentarian, Edith Cowan (1861–1932).
  • The $20 note features the founder of the world’s first aerial medical service (the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia), the Reverend John Flynn (1880–1951), and Mary Reibey (1777–1855), who arrived in Australia as a convict in 1792 and went on to become a successful shipping magnate and philanthropist.
  • The $10 note features the poets AB "Banjo" Paterson (1864–1941) and Dame Mary Gilmore (1865–1962). This note incorporates micro-printed excerpts of Paterson’s and Gilmore’s work.
  • The $5 note features Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Parliament House, Canberra, the national capital. (Note that a special centenary issue of the $5 note featured Sir Henry Parkes and Catherine Helen Spence in 2001.)

Polymer note technology was developed by Australia, and Australia prints polymer banknotes for a number of other countries. In 1988, Australia introduced its first polymer bank note and in 1996, Australia became the first country in the world to have a complete series of polymer notes. Australia’s notes are printed by Note Printing Australia, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Reserve Bank of Australia. Note Printing Australia prints polymer notes for a growing number of other countries including Bangladesh, Brunei, Chile, Indonesia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Western Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. Many other countries are showing a strong interest in the new technology.

All Australian coins depict Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse, with different images on the reverse of each coin.

  • The $2 coin, which replaced the two dollar note in 1988, depicts an Aboriginal tribal elder set against a background of the Southern Cross and native grasstrees.
  • The $1 coin, which replaced the $1 note in 1984, depicts five kangaroos. The standard $1 design, along with the 50, 20, 10 and 5 cent designs, was created by the Queen’s official jeweler, Stuart Devlin.
  • The 50 cent coin carries the coat of arms of Australia: the six state badges on a central shield supported by a kangaroo and an emu, with a background of golden wattle, Australia's floral emblem (see fact sheet on Australia’s coat of arms).
  • The 20 cent coin carries a platypus, one of only two egg-laying mammals in the world. It has webbed feet and a duck-like bill that it uses to hunt for food along the bottom of streams and rivers.
  • The 10 cent coin features a male lyrebird dancing. A clever mimic, the lyrebird inhabits the dense, damp forests of Australia’s eastern coast.
  • The 5 cent coin depicts an echidna, or spiny anteater, the world’s only other egg-laying mammal.

The 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins are made of cupronickel (75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel). The one and two dollar coins are made of aluminum bronze (92 percent copper, 6 per cent aluminum and 2 per cent nickel). The one dollar, 50 and 20 cent circulating coins occasionally feature commemorative designs.

Australia’s coins are produced by the Royal Australian Mint, which is located in the nation’s capital, Canberra. Since opening in 1965, the Mint has produced more than 14 billion circulating coins, and has the capacity to produce more than two million coins per day, or more than 600 million coins per year. The Royal Australian Mint has an international reputation for producing quality numismatic coins, and won an international award for ‘Best Silver Coin 2006’ for its Silver Kangaroo coin design.


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