1966 Decimal currency introduced

For two years, both currencies were legal tender

On 14 February, 1966, Australia changed from a monetary system using pounds, shillings and pence to decimal currency – dollars and cents. According to the National Museum of Australia, a decimal system had been proposed as early as 1800, when Governor King suggested the minting of decimal currency in New South Wales. His proposal was rejected and the legacy of the British system continued, complicating the arithmetic in account keeping and making life difficult for school children for many decades.

The idea of converting to a decimal system was revived from time to time, but began to receive serious attention in the 1950s. Harold Holt, Treasurer in the Menzies Government eventually appointed a Decimal Currency Committee in 1959. The committee report, three years later, suggested that the financial benefits of conversion would soon exceed the cost of the transition.

A public competition to name the new decimal currency produced a range of suggestions, all of which were over-ruled by Prime Minister Menzies, who suggested the “Royal”. The name met with widespread scorn. As one J. M. Bray of East Malvern wrote to The Age:

The effect of the decision to name our currency “Royal” is to weaken, not strengthen, our links with Britain. Not only must the leather in our shoes be British, the money in our pockets must be royal. This hysterical overinsistence on Australia’s dependent role in the British Commonwealth is producing the opposite reaction. It is driving Australia away from the Crown, and towards independence. It is pitiful to see a political party so much out of touch with the hopes and aspirations of the people it represents.

In the event, commonsense prevailed and our decimal currency became the dollar. The change was advertised with a catchy jingle to the tune of the well-known song “Click go the Shears” and featured an animated character called Dollar Bill.

Because there was no exact conversion between pence and cents (other than for sums in multiples of five) it was decided that rounding would be applied when calculating the new prices. During the two-year transition period, prices were shown in both currencies and both forms remained legal tender.

The process of metrication continued in the 1970s, with weights and measures eventually required to be in metric units.  It was regulated by state governments and therefore proceeded in a somewhat stop/start manner. However,  by 1977 the process was almost complete. The real estate industry was the last to convert to a fully metric system, not achieving this until the early 1980s.

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