They have funny money here in Australia.   The notes come in peculiar colors and they are very, very slippery.  As if to make up for the apparent flimsiness of the the bills, the coins range from the insubstantial five and ten cent pieces to the heavyweight hitters of the coin world– the one and two dollar coins.  The two dollar coin is like a small, brass-colored black hole in the monetary universe.  It is useful for tram tickets and parking, built like a tank.

The reason for the slipperiness of the notes is the material they are made of– polymer.  It is plastic money.  Australia was the first country to switch over completely to the durable stuff.  It lasts four times as long as paper money, is difficult to counterfeit, and it can be recycled.  So far, it Australia  has turned on sixteen countries to the advantages of plastic notes.

Australia changed over to decimal currency in 1963, and the “dollar” was chosen over 999 other submissions.  Smart choice.  A $100 note features the soprano, Damne Nellie Melba on the front and Sir John Monash, a soldier, engineer and administrator on the back.  I am pleased to say that there is a poet on the front of the $10 bill.  AB ‘Banjo’ Paterson is back to back with Dame Mary Gilmore, who was also a poet, among her many other accomplishments.

It is the fifties that concern us, however.  They are the bills dispensed by the ATM machines, the ones that seem to disappear so quickly that it is difficult to believe they were ever in the wallet.  The fifty is graced by David Unaipon (the first Aboriginal author to be published) and Edith Cowan (the first woman member of parliament.)   David was an inventor of note (the Leonardo of Australia);  Edith was a dedicated social worker and feminist.  These were people who defined their lives by deeds, not status or public relations.   Neither was slippery in the least.

Of the two heavyweight coins, the one dollar is larger in diameter, but less thick.  There are five kangaroos on one side, the ubiquitous Queen on the other.  The two dollar coin depicts an unnamed Aboriginal elder set against a background of the Southern Cross.   These two coins are mostly copper,  The lighter coins offer a window on the animal world.

The five cent coin depicts an echidna, a spiny ant-eater.  The ten cent coin shows us a male lyrebird and the twenty cent coin offers up the platypus.  The fifty cent coin shows us the Australian Coat of Arms, supported by a kangaroo and emu.