Get your Queen off our fiver!

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Our new $5 note (Image via @sbcbooks)

Queen Elizabeth II is 90 today — 21 April 2016. It has always seemed absurd that Australians acknowledge the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II at a completely different time to her actual birthday. In Queensland, it is even more absurd with moving it this year from June to October. However, her image on the new $5 banknote certainly does not accurately reflect her age writes history editor, Dr Glenn Davies.

TODAY IS Queen Elizabeth II’s actual 90th birthday. Congratulation to her.

In 2014, I asked on the public holiday given for her birthday in Queensland if it isn’t “time to break free?” At the time, there had been a number of abdications by European monarchs. Queen Elizabeth II is unlikely to abdicate. It is most likely the queen will stand by her promise to serve as monarch for the rest of her life. The only time she has suggested she may agree to abdicate is at the end of Sue Townsend’s brilliantly satirical novel Queen Camilla, in which the UK has elected a republican government and the Royal Family has been exiled. Prince Charles will have to keep waiting.

The Reserve Bank of Australia has said that the new $5 note is a birthday gift for the Queen and has unveiled the design of the new $5 banknote, including new security features to prevent counterfeiting. The Reserve Bank of Australia Governor, Glenn Stevens, said:

'Innovative new security features have been incorporated to help keep Australia’s banknotes secure from counterfeiting into the future. As can be seen in the images, these include a distinctive top-to-bottom window. Each banknote in the new series will depict a different species of Australian wattle and a native bird within a number of the elements. On the $5 banknote, these are the Prickly Moses wattle and the Eastern Spinebill.'

It will be released on 1 September for National Wattle Day. National Wattle Day has a strong republican connection.

However, the release of the design with a centrepiece containing a decades-old picture of a now 90-year-old monarch jolted social media into a frenzy. There were comments across social media ridiculing the design.

Here's the new Aussie $5 note

Will Fowles, Australian Republican Movement National Committee member observed:

'With the circulation of the new note likely to survive the circulation of the monarch herself (the current iteration has been around since 1992), is there not an opportunity to celebrate an Australian on this prominent part of our national artistic real estate?'

Symbolism matters.

Australian Republican Movement National Chair, Peter FitzSimons commented:

Who could believe that, in 2016, in the reign of Malcolm Turnbull, our government could – on deciding that the $5 note needs a revamp – look out across our brown and pleasant land, survey the 50 million Australians who've ever lived, and decide none of them have achieved in their own right anything good enough to be honoured with their image on the note. No, let's look further afield, all the way to England, and go to the Queen of England, and honour her principally as a matter of her royal birthright! And let's touch up the photo so she looks 30 years younger than she is. And then release what appears to be yellow witchetty grubs on the note, crawling up the page in front of her.

I cringe. And I am happy to say, judging from the response, most of Australia does too. It is nothing to do with Her Majesty – good luck to her – and everything to do with us. At least our movement received a surge in membership support because of it, and we will continue to grow. This embarrassing farce must end.

Last year, we had the overwhelmingly repudiated awarding of a knighthood to the Queen’s consort, Prince Philip. Unfortunately the design of the new fiver again looks backward rather than forward.

But what the nation’s wags have most embraced about the new design is the opportunity to reimagine our fiver with someone, anyone, apart from the Queen on it. Australian Republican Movement National Director Tim Mayfield commented on a missed opportunity. Surely, in 2016, the Reserve Bank of Australia can think of a more appropriate person to put on our national currency than another nation’s monarch. It is not as if there is a shortage of good candidates to choose from.

The Fred Hollows Foundation has recently been running an online petition campaign to “Put Fred on the Fiver. The idea received strong public support. The Fred Hollows Foundation called on the RBA to replace the current picture of Parliament House with Hollows’ face. The petition read:

 'During Fred’s lifetime, ($5) was the price of a sight-saving intra-ocular lens. But strangely enough, the $5 note is the only Australian bank note which doesn’t recognise a great Australian.'

The legendary ophthalmologist was named Australian of the Year in 1990 for his lifelong work restoring the sight of thousands of people.

Call for Australia to change the face of the $5 note

The Reserve Bank of Australia has also said that changes to the Australian banknotes have been done now to commemorate the 50th anniversary year of conversion to decimal currency.

We’ve had controversy with "royal" money before when in 1963, the staunch royalist, Prime Minister Menzies, recommended calling the new Australian decimal currency "royals". In this instance, the Australian people were not troubled, they were outraged. 

The Australian dollar was first introduced on 14 February 1966 when it replaced the Australian pound and introduced a decimal system to the nation. Although investigated as an alternative as early as 1901, the decimal currency system was initially introduced to Australia as an election promise by then Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies in 1958.

There was much discussion about the name of the new currency, with several specifically Australian names such as the "Kanga", "Austral", "Merino", and "Dinkum" bandied around. A public naming competition seeking suggestions with an Australian flavour added nearly 1000 names to this list including such exotic suggestions as "Oz", "Boomer", "Roo", "Kanga", "Emu", "Koala", "Digger", "Zac", "Kwid", and "Ming" (the nickname of Prime Minister Menzies).

In June 1963, with no clear consensus having emerged on a name, the government decided to name the new currency the 'Royal'. Treasurer Harold Holt explained that the government saw this name as “emphasising our link with the Crown” and as being “a dignified word with a pleasing sound".

While the name "Royal" was settled upon initially, it proved extremely unpopular with the Australian people. Just three months after announcing the "Royal" decision the government conceded on 19 September 1963 that the name of the currency unit would be the "Dollar". This decision won quick and general public approval.

The official conversion to decimal currency took place on 14 February 1966. The jingle below became well known to many Australians in the lead-up to the conversion date.

Decimal Change Over Song

In come the dollars and in come the cents
To replace the pounds and the shillings and the pence
Be prepared for change when the coins begin to mix
On the fourteenth of February 1966.

Clink go the coins, clink, clink, clink
Change over day is closer than you think
Learn the value of the coins and the way that they appear
And things will be much smoother when the decimal point is here.

In come the dollars and in come the cents
To replace the pounds and the shillings and the pence
Be prepared folks when the coins begin to mix
On the fourteenth of February 1966.

Dollar Bill and Australians Keep The Wheels Of Industry Turning

Thankfully, the 1960s Menzies government finally saw sense in not pushing the "Royal" onto the Australian people. It was a term not recognised as remotely appropriate by Australians. Fifty years later the latest poll shows that just over 50 per cent of Australians don't want a Royal as our Head of State. 

Perhaps we have just provided another chant for the Barmy Army during cricket matches. No longer is it just "You're the convicts over there", "God Save YOUR Queen", and "Get your shit stars off our flag!" (a phrase which always reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld's comment: "I love the Australian flag Britain at night!"), there could now be “Get our Queen off your fiver”.

Australian life has been undergoing processes of change for a long time. Fifty years ago, decimal currency replaced Imperial pounds, shillings and pence in Australian commerce. Four years after that, we replaced Imperial measurement with the metric system. Surely the Australian people deserve a say in matters of national identity both great and small. We need to wrestle back our fiver and put our own people on our currency rather than an English aristocrat who lives in a castle in another country 9000 kilometres away. Removing the Queen from the fiver should not be considered an act of disrespect she still occupies half of all our coins.

It’s high time we have an Australian as Head of State.

History editor Dr Glenn Davies is the Australian Republic Movement's Queensland branch convenor. You can follow Glenn on Twitter @DrGlennDavies. Find out more about the Australian Republican Movement HERE.

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