12 October 2008

It seems the currency of the realm is...currency.

Given so many of you are considering a visit to our fair city, I thought a short tutorial on Australian monies might be in order. It makes almost no sense at all...the only thing Aussie money's got going is that it's only worth 60 cents, making Craig's scholarship that much nicer!!

The smart thing about Aussie bills is that they are different sizes (5's are smaller than 10's, 10's smaller than 20's, and so on) and they are completely different colors, so that even a colorblind person can see the differences in grays. Having a range of bills is positively festive. The US greenback's got nothing on the Australian party in my wallet.

Starting with the bills then, first you have your $5 bill. That's right, kids, they don't even have a $1 bill here. They got rid of it ages ago, in 1984. Of course, Queen Latifah is on the fiver, since the Land Down Under is still under the Commonwealth's benevolent shadow.

The Australian $10 note has an Australian poet Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson on one side and another Aussie poet Mary Gilmore on the reverse. Mary Gilmore was a socialist, which just goes to show you how confused and strange this country can get. Interestingly, Australian bills are made of plastic, so they actually have little clear windows in them. The different white icons on each bills' lower right corner is printed on the window. Because they're plastic, they don't show much wear and tear...but they do crack. When you're accustomed to money made of denim, it's a little disconcerting to see a bill crackle in your hands.

The Aussie twenty dollar bill is another fascinating specimen. On one side, it's got John Flynn; he was an Australian Presbyterian Minister and aviator who founded the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the world's first air ambulance. I think we can all agree he's a fairly upstanding gentleman. However, the other side depicts Mary Reibey, an rags-to-riches ex-con turned philanthropic robber baron straight out of the pages of American Dream. I'm beginning to understand exactly what kind of woman Australians hold in high esteem.

The $50 dollar note is, according to wikipedia, nicknamed "pineapple" and "avocado" because of its yellow color; I haven't heard this yet, but I'll try to get Craig to say it. We'll see if people laugh at him...
The front features a portrait of Indigenous author and inventor David Unaipon on the front. On the back is a portrait of Edith Cowan, first female member of any Australian parliament, along with an illustration of a foster mother and children.

Apparently there's a $100 note, too, but I haven't seen it yet. Now, let's see after the bizarro world of Australian coin!! We start with the 5 cent, because inflation made pennies useless here. It's sort of nice, because all prices are rounded to the nearest five cents. Queenie Liz is on the front of all the Aussie coins, and interestingly, they don't have nicknames for their coins here. Rather boring, really.

The 5 cent coin is small in diameter and thin, rather like our dimes back home. The back is an echidna! The metal in it is actually worth about 6.5 cents, so they're considering getting rid of this coin as well. New Zealand already did. Australia lags far behind New Zealand in so many areas; they haven't even started a toothbrush fence here.

Next up, the tenner; slightly larger than the 5 cent, the back features a male Lyrebird.

Now, in the US, your next step up would be a quarter, but they don't have those here. They have 20 cent coins instead, and I won't lie: I miss the quarter. I miss the quarter so much. The 20 cent coin is about the same size as a quarter, slightly larger than the 10 cent piece, as you might expect. But it takes five of them to make a dollar, which for some ridiculous reason feels like a lot more than 4. It showcases everyone's favourite deadly monotreme, the Platypus! What? You're not into venomous third talons? Get with the program.

Standing out as the ornamental princess of Australian coin, the 50 cent piece is everything you want in a coin. Heavy, big, twelve-sided, and valuable, its only downfall is that it takes up your whole pocket. It's far more common than the American half-dollar. Rather than featuring another bizarre Indigenous Australian creature, it features the Australian coat of arms on the back...which, as we all learned last week on the blog, actually features a kangaroo and an emu, so it technically features two species of wacky fauna.

As I mentioned before, Australia got rid of its dollar bill in 1984, but it does have a $1 coin. Admittedly, this doesn't seem like a problem until you reach into your pocket for change and drop a few coins in the subway gap, thereby easily losing $3. That's seriously irritating, especially when combined with the ridiculous hugeness of the gaps. I'm not joking; you are all forewarned. When you come to Sydney, you may well fall into the subway tracks.

The $1 coin is golden, rather than silver, so you can't mistake the two that easily. It's thicker than the other coins and about the same diameter as the 10 cent.

Now here's where things get really strange. Australia also has a $2 coin. What on earth is the logic behind that? Who needs a $2 coin? I thought the miserable failure of the $2 bill would have made this moot, but people here actually use it. All the time. Adding insult to inexplicability, the $2 coin is about half the diameter of the $1 coin. It seems specifically designed to facilitate the confusion of hapless immigrants.

In the States, nickels are bigger than dimes, but there's good reasoning for that: dimes were made of silver, while nickels were made of nickel, which is less valuable than silver. Ten cents worth of silver made a smaller coin than 5 cents worth of nickel. Before that, 5 cent pieces were made of silver. The amount of silver needed was so little that the coins were too small to be handled...they had to switch to a less valuable material for the 5 cent pieces, but chose to leave dimes the way they were.

But the Australian $1 and $2 coins have no such history; like any modern currency, their monetary value is far higher than their metal value. There is no connection. The $2 was only introduced in 1988, so there's really no explaining it at all.

Ok, now all of you get practicing--we can't wait to see you!

1 comment:

  1. Ha! Flying doctors, must be the Coriolis effect.