On this day: $2 coins replace green notes

By Georgie Meredith May 19, 2016
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Did you know Australia once had its own mean, green paper note? That was until 1988, when the $2 coin rolled in.

ON 20 JUNE 1988, the original $2 bank note was replaced by the $2 coin we have today, which features an Aboriginal elder set against a background of the southern cross and a native grass tree.

Introduced in 1966 with the the Australian dollar and decimal currency, the $1 and $2 paper notes had an incredibly short circulation life, thought to be only 3–6 months. As a result the one dollar note was replaced by a coin in 1984, quickly followed by the $2. 

“The $2 note was so heavily used that it was only lasting six months or less whereas a coin was likely to last around 30 years,” says Mr Ross MacDiarmid, CEO of the Royal Australian Mint. Coins were not much more expensive to produce than notes, so it seemed cost effective to move to coins. 

RELATED: The people on Australia’s bank notes

Even now, almost 30 years later, it’s not uncommon to find an original $2 coin in your wallet; perhaphs due to the fact that more than 160 million were minted in 1988.

And, although today’s polymer money is much more durable than paper money, the lifespan of a $5 note is only estimated to be two years. The lifespan of a $50 note is estimated to be 11 years. 

Our dollar could’ve been the “dinkum”

From 1910 until 1966, Australia’s currency was based on the imperial British money system. It had 12 pennies in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound.

Decimal currency was first introduced in Australia on 14 February 1966, with the Australian dollar replacing the pound.

Prime Minister Robert Menzies and Treasurer Harold Holt originally named this currency “the Royal”, however this proved unpopular.

The Dinkum, the Kwid, the Austral and the Merino, were just a few of the suggestions put forward, however the Dollar was finally agreed on, and is what we have today.

The $2 note was among the first released. The $50 note was introduced in 1973 and the $100 note in 1984 in response to inflation. 


William Farrer graced the back of the $2 note. He designed a strain of wheat in the early 1900s that increased Australian production, and became known as the ‘Father’ of the Australian wheat industry. (Credit: Australian Coin Collecting Blog)


John Macarthur, whose image was on the front of the $2 note, is famous as an early pioneer of the huge Australian wool industry. (Credit: Australian Coin Collecting Blog)

Designing the new $2 coin

Several designers were invited to contribute designs for the $2 coin, and were asked to include a representation of the head and shoulders of a traditional Australian Aboriginal, the southern cross and Australian flora.

The obverse side of the coin shows a portrait of Queen Elizabeth. In 1999 the portrait was altered to depict that of an older Queen, as designed by Ian Rank-Broadley.

The reverse side of the coin depicts an aboriginal elder whose visage was inspired by that of Gwoya Jungarai, an Anmatyerr from central Australia who had already featured on an Australian stamp in 1950. 

These images replaced two agricultural pioneers William Farrer and John Macarthur, who appeared on the old paper note. 

Coin expert Mark Nemtsas says in the last few years that the Royal Australian Mint has been releasing $2 coins with new commemorative reverse designs.

“Australia was, at the time, among the first few countries to have a coloured coin in circulation,” says Mark.

The first in 2012 was just for collectors with a plain poppy and a red poppy design.

In 2013 a new $2 coin with purple stripes on the reverse was released for circulation celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Coronation of the Queen.

Although no longer in circulation if you find a $2 note it is still considered legal tender.