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How Australia’s money has changed

Kamahl Cogdon, September 13, 2020 6:45PM Kids News

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Could notes and coins soon be a thing of the past as more Australians use electronic payments? media_cameraCould notes and coins soon be a thing of the past as more Australians use electronic payments?


Reading level: green

The way we use money has changed since your parents and grandparents were your age.

While most adults have grown up with cash, figures from the Reserve Bank of Australia show we are using it less, down from 69 per cent of transactions* in 2007 to just 27 per cent in 2019.

Electronic payment methods like debit cards and even digital wallets like Apple Pay are steadily replacing the use of cash.

And the coronavirus pandemic has further accelerated* the use of digital payments.

With fewer people leaving their homes and some shops preferring not to handle cash during the pandemic, Australia’s major banks have seen increases in online banking.

But despite the rise in electronic payments and banking, most people agree banknotes will be around for some time to come yet.

Some people, particularly older members of our community who are used to face-to-face transactions and might not be as familiar with technology, prefer using cash. And while advances in technology have made electronic payments much simpler and very reliable, there are still situations where cash is preferred. 

Fistfull of Dollars media_cameraWhile more people are using electronic payments, cash is expected to be around for some time to come yet.

So don’t worry, the $5 note you got for doing your chores or the $20 in the birthday card from grandma are still worth hanging on to.

In fact, the design of our modern banknotes means you’ll be able to save them up in your money box for years if you wish!

Australia introduced banknotes made of plastic, or polymer, in 1988 to make them harder to counterfeit* and longer lasting than the paper versions they replaced.

The polymer notes, developed by the Reserve Bank and the CSIRO, are also cleaner and can be recycled into a range of plastic products when they get to the end of their useful life, which is pretty cool.

In 2016, a new generation of polymer notes began circulating* in Australia with the release of the $5 note. This was followed by the $10 note in 2017, the $50 in 2018 and the $20 in 2019.

The new $100 is set to be released later this year and features World War I hero, engineer and civic leader Sir John Monash and famed opera singer Dame Nellie Melba.

These “next generation” notes have better security features, including a rolling colour effect and a top-to-bottom window, that make them harder to counterfeit. 

NEWS: New bank notes..$100 Reverse Design of possible new bank note media_cameraThe new $100 note featuring Sir John Monash on one side.
New bank notes..$100 Obverse media_cameraOpera singer Dame Nellie Melba is on the other side of the new $100 note.

They are a long way from our very first banknotes.

One of our first banknotes is a 10 shilling* note issued by the Bank of NSW (which later became Westpac) the day it opened its doors in Sydney on April 8, 1817.

The note, numbered 55, was issued to bank customer J Lee, hand-signed by bank directors John Harris and Robert Jenkins, and handed over by cashier Edward Smith Hall.

A 10 shilling note was quite a lot of money in those days, taking an average worker about three months to earn that sum.

The banknote, printed on imported paper and produced with the colony’s only printing press, is thought to be one of about 200 printed in the first batch.

The last known banknote from that time, Westpac bought the 10 shilling note at an auction in 2014, after it was discovered in Scotland. 

media_cameraNote number 55 was one of the first Australian banknotes issued by the Bank of NSW way back in 1817.
Development, Marketing & Communications media_cameraThe Long Gallery will display the old banknote when the Australia Museum reopens.

The bank has since loaned it for display at the Australia Museum’s Long Gallery, which is scheduled to reopen this spring.

Before the Bank of NSW banknotes, the colony was using Spanish coins imported by NSW Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

Holes were punched in the centre of the coins, making two pieces. They were then stamped with marks identifying them as NSW currency*.

The ring coin became known as a “holey dollar” and was worth 5 shillings. The small punched-out centre coin was worth 15 pence*.

Holey dollar (L) and dump from 1813, early Australian currency, part of the One Hundred exhibition, celebrating 100 years of the Mitchell Library and its unparalleled collection of Australia's most surprising, significant and intriguing objects, at the State Library of NSW in Sydney. media_cameraA holey dollar was worth 5 shillings and the punched out centre was worth 15 pence.

Different banks and different states of Australia continued to issue their own banknotes and coins until the Australian Notes Act of 1910 paved the way for the first Australian banknote for the whole country in 1913.

“It is incredible to see how money has evolved in Australia over the last 200 years,” said head of Westpac historical services Kim Eberhard.

“We have come a long way, from the first silver coins imported from Spain, to hand-signed paper notes and now, potentially heading towards a cashless future.”


  • transactions: buying and selling
  • accelerated: moved more quickly
  • counterfeit: copy and use illegally as money
  • circulating: being used
  • shilling: the money we used before dollars
  • currency: the type of money used by a particular place
  • pence: the money we used before cents


Hi-tech masked owl fights money fakers

How long do Aussie banknotes last?

Holey moley! Australia’s first minted coins on show


  1. In 2019 what percentage of transactions used cash?
  2. What has accelerated the use of digital payments?
  3. In what year did Australia introduce polymer banknotes?
  4. Who is on the $100 note set to be released later this year?
  5. What was the name given to the Spanish coins which had the centre punched out before being used as currency in NSW?


1. Draw what you’ve learnt
Draw a series of pictures, showing the different types of currency that have been used in Australia over time, as mentioned in this news story. Your pictures should be in sequential order. Complete your series of pictures by drawing something that shows your prediction for the future of currency. Write a short explanation about your prediction.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; HASS/History

2. Extension
Choose one of Australia’s current banknotes or coins. Make a list of all of the unique features of that note or coin.

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity 
Curriculum Links: English; Mathematics

Opener Up-Level It
Make a list of all the openers in the article. Pick three that repeat and see if you can replace them with another word, or shuffle the order of the sentence to bring a new opener to the front.

Don’t forget to re-read the sentence to make sure it still makes sense, and that it actually sounds better.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Imagine a time before money. How would you ‘buy’ things?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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