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A New Currency

The Advisor: Neil Davey (Mr Decimal)

Portrait of Neil Davey, the Advisor

Dr Neil Davey, who became known as Mr Decimal, was one of the key figures behind Australia's conversion to decimal currency.

The son of a storekeeper, Neil left school at the age of 14 to work as a post office messenger, however his life changed irrevocably with the outbreak of World War II. 

By his mid-20s Neil was a returned soldier, a university graduate (having earned first class honours in a Bachelor of Commerce from Melbourne University) and a member of staff at The Treasury.

His decimal story began in 1953 when, as a young Treasury official, he applied for a Commonwealth Scholarship to do a Masters degree at the London School of Economics (LSE).

The idea to research the decimal question was suggested by the Bank of England's historian, Professor Sayers, who had come across papers in the LSE library about the decimal currency controversy in Britain in the 19th century. Professor Sayers also advised Neil that he should do a PhD, rather than a Masters. The academic even wrote to Treasury with this recommendation noting that it may be useful in the future to have an Australian with a sound knowledge of decimal currency. Fortunately Treasury agreed and, as it turned out, the timing was perfect.

When Neil returned to Australia, the push to convert the currency from pounds, shillings and pence had begun.

Recalling this period, Neil modestly says that he just happened to come in on a wave and was 'in the right place at the right time.' But, given his academic qualifications and international experience, he was exactly the right person to help guide Australia through the difficult process of currency conversion.

If anyone was Mr Decimal it was Neil William Davey

As well as being appointed Secretary to the Decimal Currency Committee, which drafted a report in 1963 advising that Australia should take the decimal route, Neil was subsequently recruited as Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Decimal Currency Board. This was the authority responsible for the planning and oversight of the introduction of the new currency.

In 1965, The Sydney Morning Herald ran an article headed, 'The Quiet Academic they are calling Mr Decimal', in which reporter Christopher Day commented that Neil's PhD thesis on dollars and cents 'set the pattern for the big change in our monetary system'. The journalist went on to note that if anyone was Mr Decimal it was Neil William Davey.