Skip to content Skip to primary navigation Skip to Exhibition Navigation
Reserve Bank of Australia

A New Era – Polymer Currency Notes: 1988 Onwards

A Complete Series of Polymer Notes

The trial of the polymer note technology was judged a great success. A complete series of polymer notes from $5 to $100 was issued between 1992 and 1996.

These notes continued the themes of the original paper decimal currency notes in celebrating the diversity of Australia's social, cultural and scientific achievements, including through portraits of some of the outstanding men and women who had contributed to them.

The focus of efforts to improve security moved away from DOVDs because they were very expensive, and other cheaper security devices became available. More use was made of a clear window, which is not possible with paper notes and is both cheap and effective as an anti-counterfeiting device.

The $5 note, designed by Bruce Stewart, was issued in July 1992.

Image showing a portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the front of the $5 note Image showing the old and new Parliament House on the back of the $5 note

The front of the note carries a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II with a branch of a gum tree.

The back of the note depicts Parliament House, Canberra. The first Parliament House, opened in 1927, is in the foreground.

Taken together, both sides of the note reflect Australia's system of democracy, based on the constitutional monarchy and the Westminster parliamentary structure.

The $5 note received a mixed public response. Some people considered it too dull while others were disappointed at the loss of Caroline Chisholm, the only woman apart from the Monarch to have appeared on an Australian currency note.

In April 1995, a more brightly coloured $5 note was issued to more clearly distinguish it from the $10 note.

Image showing a portrait of Banjo Paterson on the front of an early design of the $10 note Image showing a portrait of Dame Mary Gilmore on the back of an early design of the $10 note

These were early designs of the $10 note featuring Banjo Paterson and Dame Mary Gilmore. The $10 note, designed by Max Robinson, was issued in November 1993.

Image showing the cover of the 'Waltzing Matilda' sheet music

The 'Waltzing Matilda' logo which appears on the $10 note was reproduced from the cover of the sheet music, first published in 1902.

Image showing a portrait of Banjo Paterson on the front of a $10 note Image showing a portrait of Dame Mary Gilmore on the back of a $10 note

Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson (1864–1941), poet and ballad writer, was born in rural New South Wales. In his thirties, he achieved fame as author of Waltzing Matilda, The Man from Snowy River, and many other verses.

Image showing a portrait of Mary Reiby on the front of an early design of the $20 note designed by Garry Emery Image showing a portrait of the Reverend John Flynn on the back of an early design of the $20 note designed by Garry Emery

Through her poetry and prose, Dame Mary Gilmore (1865–1962), campaigned for a range of reforms concerning voting rights for women, pensions and Aboriginal rights. One of her famous poems was No Foe Shall Gather Our Harvest.

Photograph showing Dame Mary Gilmore

There were various designs for the $20 note before a final decision was made. The $20 note, designed by Garry Emery, came out in October 1994.

Image showing the final design featuring a portrait of Mary Reiby on the front of the $20 note Image showing the final design featuring a portrait of the Reverend John Flynn on the back of the $20 note

Mary Reibey (1777–1855), featured on one side of the note, was transported to Australia in 1792 after a conviction for horse stealing. She built up substantial business interests including property, shipping and warehouses. In later life she became widely known for her charitable works and interest in church and education affairs.

Image of locket containing a portrait of Mary Reiby

The photograph shown here is of a locket containing the only known portrait of Mary Reibey. This was used in the design of the $20 note.

The other side of the $20 note carried a portrait of Reverend John Flynn (1880–1951) with background designs reflecting his contribution to the welfare of settlers in the outback, particularly his founding of the Australian Inland Mission and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Photograph showing first plane used by the Royal Flying Doctor Service

The Victory shown here was the first plane used by the Royal Flying Doctor Service which, by the 1950s, was operating over vast areas of the outback.

Image showing a portrait of David Unaipon on the front of an early design of the $50 note Image showing a portrait of Edith Cowan on the back of an early design of the $50 note

Early designs of the $50 included these notes. The $50 note, designed by Brian Sadgrove, was issued in October 1995 bearing the portraits of David Unaipon and Edith Cowan.

Image showing the final design featuring a portrait of David Unaipon on the front of the $50 note Image showing the final design featuring a portrait of Edith Cowan on the back of the $50 note

David Unaipon (1872–1967), a South Australian writer, inventor and public speaker, was an impressive spokesman for the Aboriginal people. He was the first Aboriginal author to be published. An extract from his story Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigine features on the $50 note.

Image showing handwritten preface to 'Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigine' by David Unaipon Photograph showing Edith Cowan

Edith Cowan (1861–1932) is best remembered as the first female member of an Australian Parliament. The photograph (left) is of the original facade of the West Australian Parliament House when Cowan was elected to its Legislative Assembly in 1921. Edith Cowan worked throughout her life on a wide range of educational, family, church and social issues.

Image showing a portrait of Sir John Monash on the front of an early design of the $100 note

This note was amongst early designs for the $100 note.

The polymer $100 note, designed by Bruce Stewart, was issued in May 1996. It featured portraits of Dame Nellie Melba and Sir John Monash.

Image showing the final design featuring a portrait of Dame Nellie Melba on the front of the $100 note

Dame Nellie Melba (1861–1931) was probably the most famous soprano in the world in the early decades of the twentieth century. Born Helen Porter Mitchell, she took the stage name of Melba as a contraction of her native city of Melbourne. She was based in Europe for long periods but toured Australia extensively. Melba worked tirelessly to raise funds for charities in Australia during World War I. In 1920, she became the first artist of international reputation to participate in direct radio broadcasts.

Photograph showing Dame Nellie Melba Image showing program for Dame Nellie Melba's final performance at Covent Garden, London, in 1926

The program shown here was for Dame Nellie Melba's final performance at Covent Garden, London, in 1926. The signature on the program was used in the design work for the note.

Sir John Monash (1865–1931) was a soldier, engineer and administrator. After earning degrees in engineering, arts and law, Monash had a distinguished career during World War I, rising to the rank of Lieutenant General. British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, once described Monash 'as the most successful general in the British Army'.

Image showing the final design featuring a portrait of Sir John Monash on the back of the $100 note Image showing members of the Australian Field Artillery using an 18 pound gun in action at Noreuil Valley

The photograph shown here is of members of the Australian Field Artillery using an 18 pounder gun in action at Noreuil Valley, attacking the Hindenberg Line, during the fight for Bullecourt, circa 1917.

After the war Monash was a prominent advisor on military and engineering matters. As Chairman of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria he oversaw the opening of huge deposits of brown coal in Gippsland to provide cheaper power for industrial and other uses. Monash University was named after him.

For additional information about the people on our currency notes, please visit the Reserve Bank's Banknotes Microsite.