Reserve Bank of Australia

The Reserve Bank and Reform of the Currency: 1960–1988

Australia's First Decimal Currency Notes

Photograph of Gordon Andrews inspecting a design.

In April 1964, designs by Gordon Andrews were accepted and detailed design work began with the specialist firm, Organisation Giori in Milan, Italy. New note printing machinery was obtained from the UK.

The new $1, $2, $10 and $20 notes were issued on 14 February 1966 in line with the timetable set back in 1963. A $5 note was issued the following year.

Compared to the previous currency note series, the decimal notes were more clearly 'Australian'. This was the key criterion in the brief given to the designers.

The new notes captured the country's history and its contribution to the wider world. There was by now less attention on people who had explored Australia and on Australia's economic development.

The notes gave more prominent recognition to Aboriginal culture; Women; Australia's unique environment; Architecture and the arts; and Australia's contribution to aeronautics

First decimal series

The front of Australia's new $1 note bore a portrait of the Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, and a representation of the Australian Coat of Arms.

The Coat of Arms conformed with the Royal Warrant of 1912 but was rendered in Aboriginal artistic style, marking a sharp break with the regal style of the pre-decimal notes.

Image showing the front of a $1 banknote. Image showing the back of a $1 banknote.

The back of the note was distinctive with an interpretation of an Aboriginal bark painting by David Daymirringu and of other paintings and carvings.

Despite reduced attention to representing economic development, Australia's agricultural industries continued their reign as important features on our currency notes, with wool and wheat symbolised on the $2 note.

Image showing the front of a $2 banknote. Image showing the back of a $2 banknote.

Image showing sketch of John Macarthur. Image showing sketch of William James Farrer.

John Macarthur (1767–1834) and the wool industry featured on the front of the $2 note. Macarthur and his wife, Elizabeth, contributed to the development of the colonial wool industry, especially through the use of high-quality Spanish sheep to breed the Australian merino.

William James Farrer (1845–1906) played a major role in developing wheat varieties more resistant to rust disease and to drought. His work culminated in the production of the variety, Federation, which allowed wheat farming to advance into drier areas.

As Gordon Andrews remarked in 1966 '…it would have been suicide to have left the sheep out…'.

Image showing the front of a $5 banknote. Image showing the back of a $5 banknote.

Image showing sketch of Sir Joseph Banks. Image showing sketch of Caroline Chisholm.

Sir Joseph Banks and a collage of unique Australian flora featured on the $5 note. The $5 note featured a woman, other than the Monarch, for the first time on Australia's currency notes. The portrait of Caroline Chisholm is set against a background of the women and children, sailing ships and Sydney foreshore of her time.

Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820) was with Captain James Cook at the landing at Botany Bay in 1770. He played a major role in exploring and collecting many aspects of natural science in his travels with Cook. Though returning to England, Banks remained influential in the administration of the colony and in botanical studies of Australia.

Caroline Chisholm (1808–1877) first arrived in New South Wales in 1838. She worked to establish better conditions, including suitable employment and accommodation, for young migrant women. Her work expanded to include facilitating the passage to Australia of families. What Australia needed most, in her view, were 'good and virtuous women'.

Image showing the front of a $10 banknote. Image showing the back of a $10 banknote.

Image showing sketch of Francis Greenway. Image showing sketch of Henry Lawson.

Sydney's early architect Francis Greenway, and Henry Lawson, one of Australia's best known poets and short story writers, were shown on the $10 note.

Francis Greenway (1777–1837) was convicted of forging a contract and transported to New South Wales in 1814. A trained architect, Greenway was soon employed by Governor Macquarie in the planning and supervision of public buildings. His work included the Hyde Park Barracks and St James Church, located near the present RBA head office, Macquarie lighthouse at South Head and St Matthews Church, at Windsor.

Despite a harsh and impoverished childhood and an acute hearing problem, Henry Lawson (1867–1922) became one of Australia's best known authors. His writings captured the mateship and hardships of the 'underdog' in the gold fields and outback sheep country.

The profile of Henry Lawson on the $10 note was accompanied by scenes of his childhood years, mainly from the gold town of Gulgong in New South Wales. These scenes were identified from photographs in the Holtermann Collection which came to light in 1951.

Image showing the front of a $20 banknote. Image showing the back of a $20 banknote.

Image showing sketch of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. Image showing sketch of Lawrence Hargrave.

Charles Kingsford Smith and Lawrence Hargrave appeared on the $20 note. They symbolised Australia's significant contribution to aviation and aeronautics.

Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (1897–1935) won the Military Cross as a fighter pilot in World War I. In 1926, he set records for a round Australia flight and in 1928, with Charles Ulm and two Americans, made the first successful flight across the Pacific in his aircraft, the Southern Cross.

Later flights included the first return trip to New Zealand, the then fastest flight from Sydney to London (12 days and 18 hours!) followed by his first flight round the world. From 1930 to 1935, Kingsford Smith was engaged in the development of airmail services between Australia and England. His aircraft disappeared on a flight from England to Australia in 1935.

Lawrence Hargrave (1850–1915) worked for a time at Sydney Observatory before devoting years to research on human flight. He experimented extensively with various types of engines and kites and devised the famous cellular or box kite. This work was a big influence on European and American efforts at powered flight. The $20 note included representations of some of his drawings of kites and flying machines.