A Federal Government TV ad run as part of the education program to help ease the changeover toward the decimal currency.
A Federal Government TV ad run as part of the education program to help ease the changeover toward the decimal currency. Screen Australia

50 years ago we almost named our currency something awful

IF A different decision had been made 50 years ago, a cup of coffee could now cost four kangas. Or four dinkums. Or four royals.

Or, if the creators of TV show The Simpsons had their way, four dollarydoos.

There was a lot of controversy about what to name Australia's currency when the country made the switch from pounds, shillings and pence; records revealed options tossed around at the time included the "kanga", "boomer", "dinkum", "roo", "digger", "Oz" or "royal".

Tomorrow marks 50 years since Australia made the switch to dollars and cents.

Decimal currency was introduced on February 14, 1966, to simplify the currency system and bring Australia in line with other countries.

Some agreed with the changeover while others opposed it.

One woman publicly expressed her dislike for the new system on the day of the changeover when she hurled the new coins out a window.

Newspaper reports from 1966 said the woman, who received new coins in change after paying for a bus fare, threw the coins out the window, saying they were "no good".

The Canberra Times newspaper reported some mishaps on changeover day in 1966. Banks were hectic and 50, 20 and 10 cent coins were in hot demand.

Experts also told the newspaper the switch had occurred with "unexpected smoothness".

Griffith University applied ethics senior lecturer David Tuffley said there was a lot of resistance from older people during the changeover.

He said once the new currency was introduced, his grandmother would convert everything back to pounds.

"I think that's probably what most people of her generation did," he said.

Moving over to decimal currency, which had been discussed since Federation, finally moved forward in 1959 when federal treasurer Harold Holt announced a committee would examine the possibility of a changeover.

The committee found a changeover would benefit education, office operations, technology and the community and would save time and effort.

Plans started unfolding in 1963 to make the switch in 1966. Schools were sent resources to start teaching students about decimal currency and the government announced compensation to help business owners convert their cash registers over to the decimal system.

But there was a dilemma over what to name the new currency.

A public naming competition was held and more than 1000 possibilities were listed.

In 1963 the government announced the new currency would be called the "royal" and notes started being designed. But the name changed to the "dollar" after about three months; a decision the public was much happier about.

But there have been recent calls to change the name of our currency.

An online petition currently circulating from The Simpsons fans to change our currency to "dollarydoos" has attracted 64,000 supporters so far. 

How it felt: Dollars and cents did make sense

MICHAEL Burlace says experiencing the currency changeover was like being dumped in a country where no one spoke much of the old language.

The NSW resident was 17 years old at the time and said once the switch occurred the old coins were quickly pulled out of the system and there was little alternative but to convert to the new system.

"All transactions were moving into the new, so get with it or get confused," he said.

He said many people were puzzled about the coming change until the education campaigns started.

He recalled a friend's mother being concerned because, as campaigns told her there were two dollars to every pound, she feared her bank account containing 500 pounds was about to change to $500, meaning she would be half as rich.

But once decimal currency was in, most people saw it as a positive move.

Mr Burlace said there was excitement about the new notes and coins, except for some older people who thought it looked like Monopoly money.

He also said the change to decimal currency helped lead into political and social changes, especially when it came to crossing over to the metric system.

"You could do conversions of X litres for Y dollars and compare a similar item," he said.

One group that used both systems to their advantage was real estate agents.

Mr Burlace said when dealing with a buyer, an agent would advertise the price as being "only 20,000 pounds" but to a seller, would say "I can get you $40,000". It was the same amount, but sounded so much better to each party.

The future: We will always need cash, says researcher

PAYING for items has never been so easy: all that is required is a tap of a card at the register.

It could be an indication that we're moving towards a cashless society but a technological expert believes there will always be a need for cash.

Griffith University senior lecturer David Tuffley said cash might become less common but he did not believe it would ever vanish completely.

Mr Tuffley, who lectures in applied ethics and socio-technical studies, said no one carried cash as much as they used to.

Debit cards make it possible to be cash free most of the time, even for small purchases at vending machines or parking meters.

But there is room for even more hassle-free purchasing. Mr Tuffley said paying with smartphones would probably be the next step.

While it hasn't taken off in Australia just yet, he said Apple Pay could be the next big thing. Customers register their credit cards on their phones and use their fingerprint on their device to make purchases.


1825: Britain legislates sterling currency for colony.

1913: The first Australian banknote, ten shillings, is produced.

1959: The Decimal Currency Committee forms to examine a possible shift.

1963: Government decides to change to decimal currency. Government announces new currency to be called the "royal" but changes this to "dollar".

1966: Decimal currency is introduced. New five, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins are issued along with $1, $2, $10 and $20 banknotes.

1967: $5 banknote is issued.

1973: $50 banknote is produced.

1984: A $1 coin replaces the note. A $100 banknote is issued.

1988: A $2 note is replaced by a coin.

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