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The Reserve Bank reveals how long each of our polymer banknotes lasts

John Dagge, September 25, 2019 6:30PM Herald Sun

Print Article

The Reserve Bank of Australia has analysed the lifespan of Australian polymer notes. media_cameraThe Reserve Bank of Australia has analysed the lifespan of Australian polymer notes.


Reading level: green

A $5 and $10 banknote will last for five years while a lobster ($20 note) and pineapple ($50 note) can survive in the hands of Australians for up to two decades*, a Reserve Bank of Australia* study has found.

The study, from the RBA’s Note Issue Department, comes as the central bank replaces the first generation of polymer* banknotes with a new version.

The first polymer notes were introduced in Australia in 1988 with $20 notes arriving in 1994.

Man counting hundreds and fifties Australian dollar bills media_cameraAustralian banknotes are now made from polymer instead of paper.

A new $20 banknote, featuring convict turned successful businesswoman Mary Reibey and Royal Flying Doctor Service founder Reverend John Flynn, will be released next month.

It follows the release of a new $50 note last October.

The RBA study employs a “survival model” — a mathematical model often used by medical researchers to predict the probability* of death — to map out the life expectancy of the new generation of notes.

It notes the lifespan* of a banknote can be cut short by “mechanical hazards” with those showing up with staples, stains, holes or tears destroyed by the Reserve Bank.

Those which avoid those threats will eventually suffer old age and be taken out of circulation* by the bank because their ink is worn or the series of notes they belong to is retired.

“The average life of old-series polymer banknotes increases as the denomination* gets higher: a little over five years for the $5 and $10; a little over 10 years for the $20; and around 15 years for the $50 note,” the study concludes.

“This is consistent with lower-denomination banknotes incurring higher wear through greater use for transactions*.”

Australia’s new $50 banknote revealed (7News)

The $100 note does not tend to wear out at all because it is not used often to buy things in shops and is typically stored.

The study also notes that major or potentially major economic events can extend the life of banknotes as cash is hidden in homes under mattresses or in cookie jars, keeping it out of the way of everyday wear and tear.

This happened both during the Y2K technology scare at the turn of the 21st century — when the world feared a technical bug would cause all computers to stop working after December 31, 1999 — and during the global financial crisis* in 2007.


  • decade: 10 years
  • Reserve Bank of Australia: responsible for Australia’s monetary policy and issues its currency
  • polymer: type of plastic
  • probability: how likely something is to happen
  • lifespan: length of something or someone’s life
  • circulation: money currently in use by society
  • denomination: value of a banknote
  • transactions: buying and selling
  • global financial crisis: period of extreme stress in global financial markets and banking systems between mid 2007 and early 2009.


Holey moley! Australia’s first minted coins on show

Millions of $50 notes have spelling mistake

Modern ways to learn the value of pocket money


  1. How long does a $10 note last?
  2. Why don’t $100 notes wear out quickly?
  3. Who determines the lifespan of an Aussie banknote?
  4. Name one famous person on the new $20 note.
  5. What was Y2K?


1. Look after our money
It would cost a lot of money and resources to replace banknotes as often every five years

How can we help ensure that banknotes last as long as possible?

Write some ‘Tips for looking after our money’. There are some included in the article; however, you may think of more of your own.

Next include these tips in a short poem or jingle to help people remember them and increase the longevity of our money.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Sustainability 

2. Extension
Australian currency has gone through some fairly significant changes in the past 60 years. Draw a timeline that begins in 1960 and continues up to 2020. Find out about how money has changed in this time and why it has changed. (Hint, some of the stories in the Money section on Kids News could help you here).

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Humanities and Social Sciences — History

1. The personification of a banknote
Personification is using personal attributes from living objects to describes non-living objects. For example, the car coughed and spluttered from the cold as its engine warmed up. A car is not alive, it cannot cough and splutter, but we used the sound reference to make a connection we can relate to.

There are a lot of examples in the article that refer to the banknote as if it were actually alive. Can you find some?

2. Write a story about the day in the life of a banknote
Pick a banknote to be.

Decide where the banknote will start its journey — someone’s purse, a cash register, a money box etc.

Now write a story about a day or two in the life of the banknote on a day it gets used, moved, counted or played with at least one time.

Remember you are the banknote, not the person playing with the note.

Imagine what it would be like as it moves to different places, shoved in pockets or persons, used in machines or registers etc.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Did you learn something new about money in this article? What was it?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will show until approved by editors.

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