When you are paying for that token of love today we thought it would be fitting to share the importance of this day 52 years ago.
On the morning of 14 February 1966, Australia’s shops, banks and ticket offices opened their doors to long queues of curious people who had come to exchange their pounds, shillings and pence for brand-new dollars and cents.
What was known as Changeover Day, or “C-Day”, went off without a hitch.
The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported; “The smoothness of the change, the efficiency of business people and the good humour of the public delighted Decimal Currency Board officials”.
The decision to change from the awkward and unwieldy system of pounds, shillings and pennies had been a long-time coming. The idea of a decimal currency – that is, a system based on the number 10 – had been brewing for over 100 years, but Mother England put her foot down: pounds and the base-12 system were a proud tradition.
That is, until Prime Minister Robert Menzies made an election promise in 1958 to seriously consider decimalisation. The argument for switching was simple: under the Imperial system, one Australian pound was divided into 20 shillings, which in turn was comprised of 12 pence each. This made financial transactions slower and more complicated.
“The economic benefits had become undeniable,” says Peter Rees, author of Inside the Vault: The History and Art of Australian Coinage.
“It would be simpler for Australian trade. There were only a handful of non-decimal countries, so it made sense economically.”
Many names for the new currency were suggested and we came close to having a royal instead of a dollar.
It was 1963 and Menzies, a monarchist, wished to name the currency the royal. Other proposed names from a public naming competition included more exotic suggestions such as the austral, the oz, the boomer, the roo, the kanga, the emu, the koala, the digger, the zac, the kwid, the dinkum, and the ming (Menzies’ nickname).
Menzies’ influence resulted in the selection of the royal, and trial designs were prepared and printed by the Reserve Bank of Australia.
Australian treasurer, Harold Holt, announced the decision in Parliament on 5 June 1963. The royal would be subdivided into 100 cents, but the existing names shilling, florin and crown would be retained for the 10-cent, 20-cent and 50-cent coins respectively.
The name royal for the currency proved very unpopular, with Holt and his wife even receiving death threats. Holt told the Cabinet the decision had been a “terrible mistake” and it would need to be revisited and later advised Parliament that the name was to be the dollar, of 100 cents.
On reflection it would be quite strange to have the retailer hand back your money and say ‘here is your fifty koala change’.