Australian banknotes


When you come to Australia you will use the wonderfully colourful Australian notes (or bills) unless you intend to pay with your credit card all the time - which I think you shouldn’t because using the local currency is part of the experience of being abroad.

Now that we have our Euro in Europe, I am quite used to more colourful bills. Yet coming to Australia and withdrawing my first batch of money right at the airport so I could pay for my bus ride into town, I wasn’t quite sure if I was supposed to play monopoly or what. Those notes look so much like play money it’s almost hard to believe you use them for buying real things.

After having seen all the notes now at some point – there are five different ones altogether - I want to tell you who and what is displayed on each one of them.

Let me start with the lowest value first and then work my way up.

The front of the five-dollar note, sometimes jokingly called ‘prawn’ or ‘flamingo’ because of its pinkish-red colour, shows the head of the state, Queen Elizabeth II. In case you were wondering, yes, Australia is an independent country and has its own parliament and prime minister, but since still being part of the British Commonwealth, the Queen of England is the Queen of Australia when she visits that country. The Queen’s Royal style and title in Australia is Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth.’ So her majesty is honoured on the smallest currency bill. This is from the third generation:

This is the very recent note, fourth generation, which was issued first in 2016, it's even more colourful:

On the back of the five-dollar note you can see the Parliament House and the Old Parliament House which are located in Canberra, the capital of Australia.

And here the latest issue:

There is an additional five-dollar note that is a special print and goes under the name ‘Federation’ note. It commemorates the establishment of the federation of the six colonies of Australia. On the front of that note Sir Henry Parkes, (27 May 1815 – 27 April 1896) can be seen. ‘He was a colonial Australian politician and longest non-consecutive Premier of the Colony of New South Wales, the present-day state of New South Wales in the Commonwealth of Australia. Parkes has been referred to as the "Father of Federation" due to his early promotion for the federation of the six colonies of Australia, as an early critic of British convict transportation and as a proponent for the expansion of the Australian continental rail network.

On the back of that note Catherine Helen Spence (31 October 1825 – 3 April 1910) is portrayed. ‘She was a Scottish-born Australian author, teacher, journalist, politician, leading suffragist, and Georgist. In 1897 she became Australia's first female political candidate after standing (unsuccessfully) for the Federal Convention held in Adelaide. Called the "Greatest Australian Woman" by Miles Franklin Spence was given the nomenclature of "Grand Old Woman of Australia' on her eightieth birthday.

Next is the ten-dollar note, sometimes referred to as the ‘heeler’. The first time this note was issued was on 14 February 1966 – not sure if Valentine’s Day had anything to do with it – when the Australian dollar replaced the Australian pound. This date is also known as C-Day, Changeover Day, and the reason for a change of currency was simple: the British system was too complicated for the economic system even though it had been used in Britain for centuries. Under the Imperial system, one Australian pound was divided into 20 shillings, which in turn was comprised of 12 pence each. No, It was time for the decimal system and hence the dollar was introduced.

There have been three different issues of the ten-dollar note: a paper note, a commemorative 1988 polymer note to celebrate the bicentennial of Australian settlement, and from 1993 a polymer note. According to one website I found, the ten-dollar note is the first polymer banknote of its kind. Interestingly enough my friend from New Zealand said the other day, it was New Zealand who were the first to issue those ‘plastic’ notes. Other sources claim it was Canada. I don’t really care who was the first. One ting is sure, though, the longevity of those notes has increased greatly.

Let’s have a look at the two sides of the note now. On the front you’ll see Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson, (17 February 1864 – 5 February 1941) who was an Australian bush poet, journalist and author. He wrote many ballads and poems about Australian life, focusing particularly on the rural and outback areas. Paterson's more notable poems include "Waltzing Matilda", "The Man from Snowy River" and "Clancy of the Overflow". This note is the third generation issue:

On the reverse side of the heeler Dame Mary Jean Gilmore (16 August 1865 – 3 December 1962) is portrayed. She was an Australian writer and journalist known for her prolific contributions to Australian literature and the broader national discourse. She wrote both prose and poetry.

The ten-dollar note also has a fourth generation, first issued this year which looks like this:

The third note in line is the twenty-dollar note which is a bright reddish colour and hence dubbed ‘the lobster’. Very fitting. The polymer note features Mary Reibey on the obverse with an early colonial building and sailing ship including her signature. “Mary Reibey (12 May 1777 – 30 May 1855) was an Englishwoman who was transported to Australia as a convict but went on to become a successful businesswoman in Sydney. Reibey, baptised Molly Haydock, was born on 12 May 1777 in Bury, Lancashire, England. She was a businesswoman and trader. Following the death of her parents, she was reared by a grandmother and sent into service. She ran away, and was arrested for stealing a horse in August 1791. At the time, she was disguised as a boy and was going under the name of James Burrow. Sentenced to seven years' transportation, she arrived in Sydney, Australia, on the Royal Admiral in October 1792.” The current issue of the twenty-dollar note is the one from 1994:

John Flynn (25 November 1880 – 5 May 1951) was an Australian Presbyterian minister who founded what became the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the world's first air ambulance is on the reverse with features of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia of a biplane de Havilland DH 50 victory supplied by Qantas, medical instruments.

 You can also see Coledge Harland (the man on the camel) on the right side of the note, who was a missionary to the inland people of Australia. His signature is included. A compass is in the clear window with the raised 20 lettering. These famous people are depicted against a definite red background. My guess is that the colour refers to the colour of the outback since that’s where those people worked. However, people also refer to this note as the ‘Red Back’ after the venomous Australian spider. I like my version better 😉

The fifty-dollar note is the one I’ve come across the most often so far. That would have to do with the fact that I needed to buy a car for my trip. Since I can’t withdraw a huge amount of money from my credit card in one sitting, I had to use the ATM every day for many days in order to get the amount of money I needed for my car. So with every run to the ATM I would get fifty-dollar notes. Due its saturated yellow colour the note is dubbed ‘pineapple’.

It features a portrait of Indigenous Australian author and inventor David Unaipon on the front, along with drawings from one of his inventions, and an extract from the original manuscript of his Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines.

David Unaipon, this is the Anglicized version, was born David Ngunaitponi (28 September 1872 – 7 February 1967) and was a well-known Indigenous Australian of the Ngarrindjeri people, a preacher, inventor and writer. “Unaipon's contribution to Australian society helped to break many Indigenous Australian stereotypes.

Born at the Point McLeay Mission on the banks of Lake Alexandrina in the Coorong region of South Australia, Unaipon was the fourth of nine children of James and Nymbulda Ngunaitponi. Unaipon began his education at the age of seven at the Point McLeay Mission School and soon became known for his intelligence, with the former secretary of the Aborigines' Friends' Association stating in 1887: "I only wish the majority of white boys were as bright, intelligent, well-instructed and well-mannered, as the little fellow I am now taking charge of."

On the back is a portrait of Edith Cowan, first female member of any Australian parliament, along with a picture of Western Australia's original Parliament House, and an illustration of a foster mother and children.

Edith Dircksey Cowan (née Brown; 2 August 1861 – 9 June 1932) was an Australian social reformer who worked for the rights and welfare of women and children. She is best known as the first Australian woman to serve as a member of parliament.

Cowan was born on a sheep station near Geraldton, Western Australia. She was the granddaughter of two of the colony's early settlers, Thomas Brown and John Wittenoom. Cowan's mother died when she was seven, and she was subsequently sent to boarding school in Perth. At the age of 14, her father, Kenneth Brown, was executed for the murder of her stepmother, making her an orphan. She subsequently lived with her grandmother in Guildford until her marriage at the age of 18. She and her husband would have four children together, splitting their time between homes in West Perth and Cottesloe.

In 1894, Cowan was one of the founders of the Karrakatta Club, the first women's social club in Australia. She became prominent in the women's suffrage movement, which saw women in Western Australia granted the right to vote in 1899. Cowan was also a leading advocate for public education and the rights of children (particularly those born to single mothers). She was one of the first women to serve on a local board of education, and in 1906 helped to found the Children's Protection Society, whose lobbying resulting in the creation of the Children's Court the following year. Cowan was a co-founder of the Women's Service Guild in 1909, and in 1911 helped establish a state branch of the National Council of Women.

Cowan was a key figure in the creation of the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women, and became a member of its advisory board when it opened in 1916. She was made a magistrate in 1915 and a justice of the peace in 1920. In 1921, Cowan was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia as a member of the Nationalist Party, becoming Australia's first female parliamentarian. She was defeated after just a single term, but maintained a high profile during her tenure and managed to secure the passage of several of her private member's bills.”

The last note of the Australian currency is the hundred-dollar note. It’s a bit bigger than the other notes which is why it is also called the ‘jolly green giant’. The polymer issue features the portrait of soprano Dame Nellie Melba on the front. Dame Nellie Melba (19 May 1861 – 23 February 1931), born Helen Porter Mitchell, was an Australian operatic soprano. She became one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian era and the early 20th century. She was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician. She took the pseudonym "Melba" from Melbourne, her home town.”


On the reverse side of the note we find General Sir John Monash, (/ˈmɒnæʃ/; 27 June 1865 – 8 October 1931) who “was a civil engineer and an Australian military commander of the First World War. He commanded the 13th Infantry Brigade before the war and then, shortly after its outbreak, became commander of the 4th Brigade in Egypt, with whom he took part in the Gallipoli campaign. In July 1916 he took charge of the newly raised 3rd Division in northwestern France and in May 1918 became commander of the Australian Corps, at the time the largest corps on the Western Front. The successful Allied attack at the Battle of Amiens on 8 August 1918, which expedited the end of the war, was planned by Monash and spearheaded by British forces including the Australian and Canadian Corps under Monash and Arthur Currie. Monash is considered one of the best Allied generals of the First World War and the most famous commander in Australian history.

There you go, these are the Australian banknotes. I could continue and show you the coins as well but that would take a long time because every coin has several different versions. Many are very interesting.

If you are interest just google them. Here is one link to give you a start 😉

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