Tuesday, February 14, 2006

If we were calendar-markers, we would most certainly make February 14th a red-letter day.
For most people, it is significant because it is St Valentine's Day, but that is a bit of a non-event in our household. Not because there is no love or romance, but we did not grow up with the custom of celebrating it as they do nowadays.
February 14th was the birthday of Bernie's paternal grandmother, Clara "Sett" Bailey. It is also the day that Fletcher Christian Apartments took in its very first guests 41 years ago, and we had a suitable celebratory lunch today out at Branka House with Di, our Manager, and Josie, our housekeeper.
It is also 40 years today since Australia introduced Decimal Currency.
This was a big change for people in Australia. Many saw it as a sign of increasing Americanisation. Older folk were really anxious as to how they would cope with dealing with the new currency, in spite of public education, and assurances that the change would be gradual, and prices would be displayed in both forms for some time.
I recall there was much discussion about names for the new coins and notes. The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, was very keen to call the new basic unit (equivalent of 10/-) the "Royal". A counter suggestion was that it could be called a "Ming", which was Menzies' nickname! There was strong public support for using the Aussie slang names such as "Bob" for a shilling and "zac" for sixpence. In the end, conservative cautiousness prevailed, and we were stuck with dollars and cents.
The old threepence (the "tray") posed a real problem. There was no equivalent in decimal currency, as it would equal 2 1/2 cents. People complained that they would be properly ripped off because most traders would up this to three cents, rather than lower it to two.
It is amazing how many people remember D-day. I remember shopping in Farmers store(now Myers) in Sydney that afternoon, and seeing the dual prices displayed.
The transition proved easier than we had imagined, although most of us mentally converted the dollars and pounds in our minds for quite a time. The schoolchildren were certainly glad to be free of those complicated pounds, shillings and pence sums!
But the passing of the penny was sad. There was nothing nicer than a bright and shiny new penny for a small child. It was so heavy and substantial, and two of them paid for a phone call in a Public Telephone box, or a packet of Wrigleys chewing gum.
We lived beside the West Kensington tramline, and occasionally sacrificed a whole penny by placing it on the track to see how much the tram would distort it!

This picture shows an old English farthing, a florin (two shillings. Remember?), a NZ half-crown(minted as late as 1965), a Crown (5 shillings) and a $200 coin given to me by my mother.

I wonder if the $200 coin will ever be worth any more than $200?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I well remember Menzies when he wanted the currency to be called Royals and Crowns. I recall that someone wrote a Letter to the Editor saying he was Chinese and like all Chinese he had difficulty pronouncing English Ls and Rs, so he would have have to refer to the currency as Loyals and Clowns!

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