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A Colour Revolution

The colours of the new banknotes were determined by those of equal value in the previous series of the 1950s. The association of value through the banknote's colour assisted the public in adjusting to the new decimal system. For example, the brown tone of the 10 shillings banknote was transferred to the new $1 banknote, and the green of the £1 banknote was assigned to the $2 banknote as they represented equal monetary values.

Chart of six alternative colour intensities for the background of the $1 banknote.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, NP-002013

While complying with this requirement, Gordon Andrews varied and enlivened the colour palettes, introducing contrasting tones that imparted more vibrancy than the relatively subdued tones of the previous series. Andrews formulated his inks and tested each colour and density by applying a sample on card with a palette knife and labelling the tone.

Gordon Andrews, colour samples for the $1 banknote: light orange, rainbow orange, brown, khaki, ink on card.

© Estate of Gordon Andrews. Museum Applied Arts & Sciences.

For the $1 banknote Gordon Andrews developed a more prominent expression of Aboriginal culture than had been shown previously on Australia's currency, relating the required colour for the banknote to tones associated with Aboriginal bark painting. The designer reimagined the Australian coat of arms in a way that seemed compatible with the idea of Aboriginal design, improvising its style.

David Malangi Daymirringu (Manharrnu), Funerary rites of Gurrmirringu

Photograph © Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais Patrick Gries © Estate of the artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency.

Rock paintings and carvings adapted from secondary sources appeared on the banknote, together with a reproduction of the contemporary painting Funerary rites of Gurrmirringu by David Malangi Daymirringu (Manharrnu). Surrounded by kinsmen with clapsticks, the ancestral hunter Gurrmirringu receives funeral rites, following his fatal bite from the snake shown by the white berry tree. A photograph of David Malangi's bark painting was supplied to Russell Drysdale by the collector Karel Kupka, who had acquired the work on behalf of a French cultural institution.1

Photograph of Funerary rites of Gurrmirringu, reproduced from negatives supplied by Karel Kupka, 1963.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, PN-013745.

Detail from the back of the $1 banknote showing designs based on a bark painting by David Malangi Daymirringu, 1966.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, NP-003835.

The new designs for the decimal currency series reduced the banknotes' previous emphasis on economic prosperity but continued to acknowledge the country's pastoral and agricultural industries, which were selected for the green tones of the $2 banknote. As Gordon Andrews remarked, ‘It would have been suicide to have left the sheep out.’2 In contrast with earlier versions of these activities, Andrews placed attention on the innovations of individuals, a theme throughout the decimal series. The wool and wheat industries are represented by John Macarthur and William Farrer.

Stalks of wheat are arranged across the $2 banknote with a portrait of William Farrer, who developed species more resistant to drought and disease. Whereas flocks of sheep had been depicted on previous banknotes, a single specimen becomes emblematic of the wool industry in the new series. The ram is framed by undulating lines that suggest both ribbons awarded in agricultural competitions and the swags of Regency textiles, so complementing the age of John Macarthur, who contributed to the colonial wool industry with his wife, Elizabeth.

Front of the $2 banknote showing John Macarthur, 1966.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, NP-003855.

Compared with the intricate designs of other banknotes in the series, the $2 banknote appears more conventional in both its choice of subject and treatment. The designer's inventiveness, however, is reflected in its detail; for example, his stylisation of the sheep's fleece creates dynamic patterns that distinguish his rendition from previous versions. The design also shares similarities with the 1963 Woolmark logo for Pure New Wool, an emblem that was associated, like the banknote, with enduring value.

Gordon Andrews, colour samples for the $2 banknote: rainbow green, deep green, rainbow yellow, light green, ink on card.

© Estate of Gordon Andrews. Museum Applied Arts & Sciences.

Gordon Andrews, stylised sketch of fleece for the design of the $2 banknote, black felt-tipped pen on tracing paper.

© Estate of Gordon Andrews. Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences.

Woolmark logo for Pure New Wool

© The Woolmark Company Pty Ltd 2020. All rights reserved. (The WOOLMARK logo is a registered trade mark and a certification trade mark in many countries. This logo has been included for illustrative purposes only and is reproduced with permission.)


1. David Malangi Daymirringu (Manharrnu), Funerary rites of Gurrmirringu, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark, 1963, is held in the collection of Musée du quai Branly, Paris. Regrettably, David Malangi Daymirringu's agreement for its reproduction was not sought before the issuance of the banknotes. The contributor's fee was paid retrospectively to the artist and Dr Coombs visited him in the Northern Territory, presenting a commemorative medal and a personal gift of fishing equipment.

2. Gordon Andrews, ‘The Contract Was Mine’, Currency, February 1966.

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