Initially, the Australian dollar denominations were the one, two, five, ten, twenty and fifty cent coins, coupled with one, two, ten and twenty dollar notes. The next year a five dollar note was introduced as the public had become familiar with decimal currency the initial notes were easily converted into whole pound amounts, whilst a five dollar note had a 2 10s equivalent. In 1969, the round fifty-cent coin was replaced by a twelve-sided version, as the round coin had too high a silver content to be viable currency (unscrupulous money handlers would simply melt down the coins for their silver). One- and two-cent coins were discontinued in 1991, meaning all cash transactions are now rounded to the nearest five cents (i.e. $2.98 would become $3.00 and $4.37 would become $4.35). Australian banknotes are groundbreaking in the sense that they are not made of paper; rather, they are produced using polymer (plastic). This reduces the rate of counterfeiting and has the added benefit of a longer circulatory life as they do not wear as easily. The following is a description of each denomination of the Australian dollar.
The one-cent and two-cent coins were the lowest-value coins of the Australian dollar until their removal from circulation in 1991. Even though they remain legal tender, they are not commonly used in transactions and many of the remaining coins were melted down to make bronze medals for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. They both consisted of an alloy made up of mostly copper. The one-cent coin depicted a feathertail glider whilst the two-cent coin featured a frill-necked lizard.
The five-cent piece is the lowest-value and most-produced coin of the Australian dollar. It has been in circulation since 1966, but does not circulate well at all due to its low value (rarely do consumers exchange five cents in transactions and in recent years there have been calls to remove it). It consists of 75% copper and 25% nickel. The reverse side depicts a native echidna, whilst the obverse, like all Australian common coins, depicts Queen Elizabeth II.
The ten-cent piece is the second-most produced coin in circulation. The mid-1980s was a period of low mintage for the ten-cent coin, with only 2.1 million minted in 1985 and none produced in 1986 and 1987. Like the five-cent piece, it consists of 75% copper and 25% nickel. The reverse side depicts a male superb lyrebird, native to the east coast of Australia.
The twenty-cent piece is the second-largest coin of the Australian dollar by size and consists of a 75% copper and 25% nickel alloy. In 1981more twenty-cent coins than the Royal Australian Mint could produce were required, so other Commonwealth mints helped out, leading to the production of the ‘Ottawa Mint’ collectable twenty-cent piece, identifiable by its rounded edges. Similar to the ten-cent piece, no twenty-cent coins were produced in 1986 or 1987. It consists of a cupronickel alloy of 75% copper and 25% nickel. The reverse side depicts a platypus.
The fifty-cent piece is the largest coin in Australian circulation today, and is the subject of many commemorative releases due to the size which allows for more detailed content. Initially, the fifty-cent coin was round and consisted of 80% silver and 20% copper, but as silver prices rose to make the production of the coin impractical, the current twelve-sided design was issued in 1969. Like other Australian coins, none were issued in 1986 or 1987. The reverse side depicts the Australian coat of arms.
The one-dollar coin is probably the most circulated coin in Australian circulation. Like the fifty-cent piece, there have been many commemorative releases of the one-dollar coin, the first of which was minted in 1986 (the first one dollar coin was produced in 1984 to replace the one dollar note). It consists of a mostly copper (92%) alloy. The reverse depicts five native kangaroos on a non-commemorative issue.
The two-dollar coin is the newest of the Australian coins, being introduced in 1988 to replace the two-dollar note. There have been no commemorative issues of this coin, possibly due to its very small size. The design of the coin has not wavered from the design depicting an Aboriginal man, the Southern Cross and an Australian plant, except for the removal of the designer Horst Hahne’s initials from 1990 onwards. It consists of 92% copper, 6% aluminium and 2% nickel.
The one- and two-dollar notes were first issued in 1966 to replace the ten-shilling and one-pound notes respectively. The one-dollar note featured Queen Elizabeth II and some Aboriginal art whilst the two-dollar note depicted John Macarthur, an Australian wool pioneer, and William Farrer, an Australian agricultural pioneer. They were removed from circulation in 1984 and 1988 respectively, to be replaced by gold coins. This was due to their high rate of wear and tear.
The five-dollar note was first introduced in 1967 after the public had gotten used to decimal currency. It was introduced one year later because it had no direct equivalent in the old pound system (there was no 2 10s note). The note has always been of a mauve colour and has three main issues; the initial paper issue depicting Joseph Banks and Caroline Chisholm, the present polymer issue featuring Queen Elizabeth II and the Parliament of Australia, with a Centenary of Federation issue of 2001 depicting Catherine Helen Spence and Henry Parkes.
The ten-dollar note was first issued in 1966 and replaced the 5 which also had a blue colour. Banjo Paterson and Mary Gilmore appear on the current design and the paper version depicted Henry Lawson and ironically Francis Greenway, a convict transported to Australia for forgery. In 1988 a commemorative note was issued featuring the HMS Supply and a portrait of an Aboriginal male wearing ceremonial paint.
The twenty-dollar note was issued upon decimalisation in 1966 and has a distinct red colouration. It replaced the 10 note which had a similar orange colour. It currently depicts Mary Reibey and John Flynn, whilst the paper version featured Charles Kingsford Smith and Lawrence Hargrave, honoured for their contribution to Australian aviation. There has been some debate as to the colour of the note red or orange however official documentation states the colouration is red.
The fifty- and 100-dollar notes were both issued due to inflation, in 1973 and 1984 respectively. The paper versions of the notes were of a yellow and grey-blue colour and depicted David Unaipon, Edith Cowan, Dame Nellie Melba and Sir John Monash. The new versions of the fifty- and 100-dollar notes are mustard-yellow and green respectively.