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 innovative technology with which Australian bank notes are produced - developed entirely in Australia - offers artists brilliant scope for the creation of images that reflect the history and natural environment of Australia. At the same time, 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.
Australia’s currency heritage
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 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, 20shillings to a pound.
Transition to the decimal system
In 1963, Australia initiated the change to decimal currency. More than 1000submissions 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 14February 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.