A New Currency: 1900–1920
Use of the New Notes
In the early 1900s, nearly 90 per cent of currency in circulation was in the form of coins compared to a mere 6 per cent in recent times.
The new paper notes were not popular at first. Fast growth of the note issue as a result of inflation during the First World War, however, helped build wider use of the new paper currency relative to coins.
The 10 shilling notes were criticised; they were even said to spread disease. The newspapers called them 'Fisher's Flimsies' in criticism of Prime Minister Andrew Fisher's enthusiasm for the new paper currency. The public had become accustomed to half sovereign gold coins. In contrast, paper notes deteriorated quickly as a result of their high rate of circulation.
The general public would not often have used notes above £10. Even a £10 note was too large to appear in a tradesman's wage packet. During the war years, average weekly earnings were about £3.
A one pound note had generally been the lowest denomination used in Australia prior to the new Australian notes.
To emphasise that the 10 shilling note was equivalent to a half sovereign gold coin, from 1914 it was overprinted in red on the borders with the words 'Half Sovereign'.
Apart from its high value relative to wages, the £1,000 note was considered to be of poor quality and susceptible to forgery.
The £1,000 notes were subsequently replaced by cheques for interbank settlement and were gradually paid in and cancelled. Remaining £1,000 notes were destroyed in 1969. Any notes in private hands have been auctioned for large sums.