It was 50-years ago, on the 14th February, 1966, that Australia converted from pounds, shillings and pence, to decimal currency. It had been four-years in the planning and it went without a hitch. On the morning of the day, banks were packed to bursting.
For those children of the Empire, who had battled with the imperial system of coinage which dates back to the Roman times, it was a sad day. For some time after the change-over, one tended to convert the price in one’s mind to understand how much it cost. One pound became two dollars. Something costing five pounds was expensive. Ten dollars did not really register. It was similar to playing Monopoly.
The new coins and notes were designed by Stuart Devlin, who is relatively unknown in Australia. Mr. Devlin, who now lives in the UK, is a significant contemporary gold and silversmith who has designed coins for countries around the world. Mr. Devlin was born in Geelong. He trained as an art teacher and holds an RMIT Diploma of Art in gold and silver smithing. He was awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art in London in 1958, and was awarded a Harkness Fellowship by the Commonwealth Fund. He spent the two-year fellowship at Columbia University, United States. He returned to teach in Melbourne in 1962, and subsequently became an inspector of art schools. In 1964 he won a competition to design our decimal coinage.
The change from one system to another brought Australian into line with the 95% of the world who traded in decimal currency. The conversion was also an opportunity to break the shackles with the United Kingdom; although, the Prime Minister of the day, the late Sir Robert Menzies, who was renowned for his devotion to the monarchy, had some strange notion about calling them royals rather than dollars: “That will cost five-royals.” Can you imagine? Public opinion was sought and duly considered. Believe it or not, if their suggestions had been taken seriously we might have been trading in emus, merinos, dingoes, and quids. They were just some of the absurd possibilities. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and the treasurer of the day, the late Harold Holt, persuaded the cabinet it should be dollars.
It is a curious thing that, on the 50th anniversary of the conversion, the British Government has announced tighter and more expensive visa regulations for Australians travelling to the UK, and which could have a long-term impact on the close relationship between the two countries. The ABC has reported: ‘From April 6, Australians staying longer than six months in the UK will have to pay $400 (200 GBP) for the ‘free’ National Health Service (NHS).
Australians wanting to consider permanent residency in the UK will have to be earning a minimum of $70,000 (35,000 GBP) to be permitted to stay (A sum which is more than most Brits earn in a year).
The committee has recommended to the UK Home Office that Australians on Tier 2 working visas will face a $2,000 (1,000 GBP) annual fee. It does not specify if the employee or the company should be encouraged to pick up the bill. Also, it recommends companies wanting to employ nonEU workers will have to guarantee they will be paying them a minimum of $60,000 (30,000 GBP).
British Conservative MP, Andrew Rosindell, who is also a member of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, has sounded the alarm, believing it will discourage Australians from coming to the UK.
Those Australian baby boomers that grew-up with a special affection for England will be disappointed and angry with this decision. For some years, England’s regard for Australia has been on the decline. It began when, in 1973, the UK joined the European Economic Community, thereby ending much of it’s safe-guarded trading with Australia and New Zealand. It affected up to 60% of our exports to that country. They cut us adrift, without hesitation. We should have learnt from that.
I have, until this moment, been hesitant about Australia becoming a republic; however, the extraordinary decision to make it more difficult for Australians to live and work in the UK has changed my thinking. England seems to have forgotten that in two World Wars Australians answered the call and went to fight wars which had nothing to do with them. It was the British – Churchill, in particular, who branded Australians an inferior race who sent our soldiers to their deaths in Gallipoli. In WW2 it was the Rats of Tobruk, and their determination, which helped turn the tide of the Second World War which saved their sorry skins. The decision to punish Australians is beyond comprehension. Is this the way you repay those who have offered their support, and laid down their lives, in your country’s hour of need? I think not!
I would have thought that two countries which share a history, and the same Head of State, would have a special bond – a willingness to look-out for each other. Again, it seems not. While there is no question that Queen Elizabeth has served this country well, if this is how Her Majesty’s British Government feel about us, then it is time to make the break. At the same time we should remove the Union flag from the Australian flag and before you say it, this is not the flag under which Australians fought and died. We did not have a flag until 1954 when The Queen came here on the Commonwealth Tour and signed the relevant document. All things considered, it is time. Long live the Republic of Australia.
Roland can be heard each MONDAY morning on 3BA at 10.30 with Edwin Cowlishaw.