Friday, November 12, 2010

Paid by the Dead...

Every day millions of US citizens see dead people. Perhaps as a statue on the street, a picture or photograph, or the name of a building or bridge we may not take much notice of it. But death is all around us. This is certainly reflected in our currency. With the exception of Benjamin Franklin (who has been 6 feet under for many years) every bank note shows a deceased former president. Are they the only notable people from the past worth recognizing? Hardly. But that is how it has been for over a century. And people tend to hate change.

In Australia, the currency also carries faces of the dead. The only exception is the five-dollar note, which depicts a rather youthful Queen Elizabeth II and sketches of the capital city of Canberra as it was redesigned beginning in 1913. But the remaining faces have all been laid to rest. However, unlike the United States these people are far less political yet more interesting and diverse.

The $10 note pays tribute to writers. There's bush poet Andrew Barton "Banjo" Patterson and poet/journalist Dame Mary Gilmore. Two pioneering individuals can be found on the $20 note: convict-turned-shipping-magnate Mary Reibey and Reverend John Flynn who founded the world's first aerial medical agency: the Royal Flying Doctor Service. On the $50 note you can find inventor David Unaipon (first Aboriginal to wrote and publish a book) and the first female representative elected to Parliament (in 1921 just a year after women were given the right to vote in the United States, though in Australia women voted since 1901) Edith Cowan

Last we have the highest denomination, the $100 note, which features the likenesses of world-renowned soprano opera singer Dame Nellie Melba as well as engineer and World War II commander General Sir John Monash. Australia's $1 and $2 coins, introduced in 1984 and 1988 respectively, along with the 5, 10, 20, and 50 cent pieces show the more natural, native side of the nation. From kangaroos to emu to a tribal Aborigine the images pay tribute to what was already on the continent before the influx of Europeans. Of course, they all can still be found there.

These iconic people will undoubtedly hold up to wear much better than Lincoln, Washington, and the others on US dollar notes. That's because Australia was the first country to make their notes out of a polymer beginning in 1988 to help curb counterfeiting. Having just received my converted currency from the bank I can see the advantages. It behaves very similarly but since it's a form of plastic it can't be ripped in two. Of course, nothingeven plasticis infallible. Currency values fluctuate in uncertain times. Right now, the Australian dollar is having a bit of trouble. But nothing lasts forever. 

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