time for change

Australia chooses to honor Aboriginal peoples instead of the British monarchy in its new $5 bill

The $5 bill was the last Australian banknote to feature a portrait of the monarch
The queen won't be replaced by the king.
The queen won't be replaced by the king.
Photo: Reserve Bank of Australia via Getty Images (Getty Images)
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Australia’s new $5 banknote won’t feature Britain’s new king.

King Charles III, who took the throne after the Queen’s death last year, will not be replacing the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the Australian bill. Instead of the monarch, who is technically Australia’s head of state, the new banknote will “feature a new design that honours the culture and history of the First Australians,” the country’s central bank said on Feb. 2.

First Australians is one of the terms used to refer to the communities who have inhabited the territory for over 50,000 years, the Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. In mid-2021, there were more than 941,000 Aboriginal peoples living in Australia, comprising 3.8% of the population.

The Australian Federal Reserve Bank made the decision after consulting with the Australian government. How exactly the financial institution plans to pick the new design remains unclear.

“The new banknote will take a number of years to be designed and printed,” the central bank said. Meanwhile, the current iteration of the $5 bill—the last Australian banknote to carry an image of the monarch— will continue to circulate.

The flipside of the new note will continue to feature the Australian Parliament and the Forecourt Mosaic, which is based on a Central Desert dot-style painting by Michael Nelson Jagamara titled “Possum and Wallaby Dreaming.”

A portrait of King Charles III is expected to replace that of Queen Elizabeth II in Australian coins.

A brief history of Australian banknotes featuring Aboriginal designs

1966: The first $1 banknote includes imagery of Aboriginal rock paintings and carvings and designs based on a bark painting by Yolngu artist David Malangi Daymirringu whose ownership of the artwork, however, was not recognized until later.

1988: Australia’s first polymer banknote, a $10 issued as a one-off, includes examples of different types of both ancient and contemporary Aboriginal art.

1995: Australia prints $50 banknotes featuring Australia’s first published Aboriginal author and inventor David Unaipon, a Ngarrindjeri man from South Australia. Some of his inventions include an improved hand tool for shearing sheep, a centrifugal motor, a multi-radial wheel, and a mechanical propulsion device. Even when the polymer bills were redesigned in 2018, his face stayed on.

1999: In a referendum, Australian voters rejected a proposal to become a republic and chose to keep the British monarch as the country’s head of state.

2021: Australia officially changed the lyrics in its national anthem from “for we are young and free” to “for we are one and free” to acknowledge that its Aboriginal peoples are one of the oldest civilizations in the world.

The Queen will remain on Australian legal tender forever

The Queen has appeared on every official banknote in the Commonwealth nation since her coronation in 1953. Taking over as the British monarch, King Charles III also becomes the head of state of Australia, New Zealand and 12 other Commonwealth realms outside the United Kingdom. As such, he is expected to replace his mother’s portrait in various currencies.

In December, Australian officials said “existing Australian legal tender coins bearing the Queen’s effigy will remain in circulation and remain legal tender forever.” They also announced “the transition to an effigy of King Charles III for all Australian legal tender circulating, collectable and investment coins, adding that the design is expected in early 2023 and the first coins will be produced later this year.

Who Australians wanted to see on their $5 bills, by the digits

According to an October survey by the newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald

  • 34% wanted to see King Charles III on the $5 bill;
  • 43% Australians wanted to see “someone else, such as a famous Australian;
  • 23% were undecided.

Quotable: Aboriginal leaders rejoice

“This is a massive win for the grassroots, First Nations people who have been fighting to decolonise this country. First Nations people never ceded our Sovereignty to any King or Queen, ever. Time for a Treaty Republic!” -tweet by Lidia Thorpe, a Greens senator and Djabwurrung Gunnai Gunditjmara woman.

King Charles III will be on UK currency bills

In the UK, the King will appear on four banknotes—the £5, £10, £20 and £50 bills—whose designs were unveiled in December. They’re expected go into circulation before mid-2024.

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