driving on the right. The day of the big change, called “C-Day” for Currency Day in Australia, was a major logistical and public relations success.
Australia’s old system of currency had pounds, shillings, and pence like the British system. The problem was that the pound divided into 20 shillings of 12 pence each, making the math involved in transactions complicated. Australia wanted to convert to a decimal currency to match its trading partners and many other countries in the world. The new system would have a major unit divided into 100 smaller units.
The question was what to name the new monetary unit. Prime Minister Robert Menzies wanted to call it the Royal, an unpopular choice among Australians. Other names were proposed, such as the Dinkum, the Austral, and the Merino. Eventually, the name Dollar was chosen, which was divided into 100 cents, much like America’s system of currency. The new coins depicted Australian wildlife, while the notes illustrated Australia’s history and accomplishments.
Starting in 1965, a widespread media campaign began to educate the public about the upcoming change. The campaign featured the cartoon character Dollar Bill. Older Australians fondly remember the popular jingle.
Three months before the changeover, banks converted their machinery and processes and stocked up on the new currency.
The big day came on Monday, 14 February 1966. The banks had been closed since the previous Wednesday in preparation. Thursday had been a Public Service pay day, so many people lined up at the banks, eager to cash their first pay check in decimal currency.
Another problem occurred because only 16 million 50-cent coins had been minted for Currency Day. The public complained about the short supply. Bank and Royal Australian Mint personnel speculated that the beauty of the coins had made them attractive for collectors. Perhaps the designs were a factor, but the biggest motivator for hoarding turned out to be how much silver was in the coins. Some contained around an ounce of silver, more than the currency value of 50 cents. The Royal Australian Mint soon changed the alloy in the 50-cent coins, so people wouldn’t hoard them for their silver content.
Even the Decimal Currency Board was surprised by how smoothly the changeover had gone. Over the next two years, both the new and old currencies were legal tender. The old pound currency was then phased out, leaving the currency we recognize today as Australian.