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Introducing the Decimal Banknotes

The new decimal currency banknotes by the designer Gordon Andrews (1914–2001) exhibited colours and designs that were bolder and more vivid than the subdued tones of the previous banknotes. When the initial design of decimal currency was launched in 1966, architect and author Robin Boyd considered that it was ‘most unusual to find a Government department in any country of the world going forward with such advanced designs’ (The Age, 11 January 1966).

The portraits depicted on the decimal banknotes also presented a broader range of national figures, industries and enterprises than the earlier banknotes, which had stressed the country's economic development. The new designs reduced this emphasis, but continued to represent the country's agricultural industries, with wool and wheat symbolised on the $2 banknote through John Macarthur and William Farrer, the ‘pastoral design’ as Andrews termed it. Contributions to the arts in Australia were represented through the architect, Francis Greenway, and the poet and writer, Henry Lawson, who appeared on the $10 banknote. Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and Lawrence Hargrave signified Australia's influence in the sphere of aviation and aeronautics on the $20 banknote.

The First Decimal Currency Banknotes

Concept design by Gordon Andrews; paper decimal series first issued in 1966.

$1 Banknote

Front of the $1 banknote, showing Queen Elizabeth II in the regalia of the Order of the Garter, with watermark of Captain James Cook
Back of the $1 banknote, showing designs based on a bark painting by David Malangi Daymirringu and Aboriginal rock carvings, with watermark of Captain James Cook.
Flip Banknote

$2 Banknote

Front of the $2 banknote, showing John Macarthur, with watermark of Captain James Cook
Back of the $2 banknote, showing William Farrer, with watermark of Captain James Cook
Flip Banknote

$10 Banknote

Front of the $10 banknote, showing Francis Greenway, with watermark of Captain James Cook
Back of the $10 banknote, showing Henry Lawson, with watermark of Captain James Cook
Flip Banknote

$20 Banknote

Front of the $20 banknote, showing Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, with watermark of Captain James Cook
Back of the $20 banknote, showing Lawrence Hargrave, with watermark of Captain James Cook
Flip Banknote

Later Decimal Currency Banknotes

In subsequent years, there were additional denominations of banknotes. In 1967, the $5 banknote was introduced; it brought together portraits of Sir Joseph Banks and Caroline Chisholm, who both supported Australia as a place for British settlement and migration. Gordon Andrews’ design for the $50 banknote followed in 1973, and $100 denomination was issued in 1984 with a design by Harry Williamson. The $50 banknote depicted medical and scientific research with the selection of Lord Howard Florey and Sir Ian Clunies Ross. The theme of discovery informed Williamson's designs for the $100 note, with portraits of the Antarctic explorer, Sir Douglas Mawson and the astronomer, John Tebbutt.

$5 Banknote

Concept design by Gordon Andrews; first issued in 1967

Front of the $5 banknote, showing Sir Joseph Banks, with watermark of Captain James Cook.
Back of the $5 banknote, showing Caroline Chisholm, with watermark of Captain James Cook
Flip Banknote

$50 Banknote

Concept design by Gordon Andrews; first issued in 1973

Front of the $50 banknote, showing Lord Howard Walter Florey, with watermark of Captain James Cook.
Back of the $50 banknote, showing Sir Ian Clunies Ross, with watermark of Captain James Cook
Flip Banknote

$100 Banknote

Concept design by Harry Williamson, first issued in 1984

Front of the $100 banknote, showing Sir Douglas Mawson, with watermark of Captain James Cook
Back of the $100 banknote, showing John Tebbutt, with watermark of Captain James Cook
Flip Banknote

Films

Conversion Day

This short film was designed to educate and prepare the public for Conversion Day (also known as ‘C Day’). This film helped familiarise people with the new currency before it was introduced.

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Transcript

On February 14th you will start using new dollar notes, each printed with a number of colours, with one colour predominated. Other important features common to all dollar notes are this special watermark of Captain Cook and the metallic thread running down the note. The one dollar note is predominately brown and carries a portrait of the Queen and the Australian Coat of Arms on the front, and Aboriginal drawings on the back.

The two dollar note is printed in shades of green. John Macarthur and an Australian ram are on the front, and on the back, William Farrer and wheat. The ten dollar note is predominantly blue in colour. Francis Greenway and some of his architectural work are on the front, and Henry Lawson and manuscripts on the back. The twenty dollar note is reddish in colour. On the front, Kingsford Smith and patterns of wings; on the back Lawrence Hargrave and flying devices. The new dollar notes are slightly smaller and are especially graded in size. After February 14th they will quickly replace the old notes.

The new decimal banknotes

This advertisement was created to explain many of the new features of the banknotes, which included a new size, brighter colours and security features. The banknotes also featured new portraits which represented a broader range of national figures, industries and enterprises than the previous banknotes.

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Transcript

On February 14th you will start using brand new dollar notes. Here is the one dollar note, equal to ten shillings. Predominately brown, with a portrait of the Queen and the Australian Coat of Arms on the front, and Aboriginal drawings on the back. See the new dollar notes on display at banks throughout Australia.

A new currency

This short advertisement was created to educate and familiarise the public on ‘C Day’ with the introduction of the new decimal currency.

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Transcript

From the 14th of February, C Day, you will be using new Australian coins and new notes. There are four dollar notes of new design and size, and six coins ranging in value from one to fifty cents. Remember, 100 cents equal one dollar. See the new notes and coins on display at banks throughout Australia.

Commemorative Album

A special commemorative album called Australian Notes: The Change to Decimal was produced by the Reserve Bank of Australia to mark the introduction of decimal currency on 14 February 1966. Two of each of the $1, $2, $10 and $20 banknotes are included in the album, enabling the front and back of the notes to be displayed at the same time. The banknotes are all overprinted with the word 'Specimen', so that while they are exactly the same as the banknotes in circulation, the overprint, combined with zero serial numbers, removes their legal tender status. [1]

The commemorative album also contains information about the historical context of the introduction of decimal currency, the design of the banknotes, and details of the production and distribution of the banknotes. The Australian Coat of Arms, appearing on the front of the $1 banknote, is also reproduced.

This particular album, from the Bank's Archives, was signed by all members of the Reserve Bank Board in 1966, including the Governor, Dr H C Coombs, the Deputy Governor, Sir John Phillips, Sir William Anderson, Sir William Pettingell, Sir Leslie Melville, Sir Roland Wilson, Mr Henry Rowden, Mr Robert Osborne, Sir William Gunn and Sir Theo Kelly.  It was also signed by those involved in the design of the notes, being Mr Gordon Andrews, Mr Russell Drysdale, Mr Douglas Annand, Mr George Hamori, Mr Alistair Morrison, Mr Max Forbes, Mr Richard Beck and Mr Hal Massingham.

Mention was made in the introductory text to the design of a $5 banknote, which would be due for release at a later date, and provision was made at the back of the album to incorporate text and notes.  The $5 note was issued in 1967 and specially prepared pages were sent to recipients of the original albums, to be added to the back of the album.

Specially inscribed albums were sent to high profile recipients, including the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Governor General (Lord Casey), the Governor General's Wife (Lady Casey), the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), the Federal Treasurer (William McMahon) and the Governors of the Banks of England and New Zealand. Standard albums, printed in exactly the same style, were not inscribed and were mostly sent to major Trading, State, Savings & Foreign Banks, Commonwealth Central Banks, other Central Banks, the High Commissioner in London, Libraries & other approved institutions and people in Australia & overseas.

Endnotes

In Australia, specimen banknotes are used as reference material for banks, commercial agencies and libraries, as well as presentations notes for dignitaries. [1]

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