What happens to Australian money now that Queen Elizabeth II is dead?


Most Australians have never seen any other face on their coins than that of Queen Elizabeth II.

For decades, her image has been a small reminder of Australia’s connection to the royal family and its status as a constitutional monarchy.

But this connection to royalty and the need for physical currency in everyday life is weakening in the 21st century.

So, with a new monarch on the throne, what will happen to the money?

Why is the queen’s head on the silver?

It is traditional for the monarch to appear on the lowest denomination of the Australian banknote, such as the now defunct $1 note.(Provided: Reserve Bank of Australia)

Queens, kings and emperors have had their heads stamped on coins since ancient times.

But Queen Elizabeth II has appeared on the money more than anyone else in history.

His face appeared on coins in 35 countries, including the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries.

His face also appears on banknotes, including the Australian $5 note and the now-defunct $1 note.

Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, appeared on the back of all Australian coins and banknotes – then pounds, shillings and pence.

A 1938 Australian penny bearing the likeness of King George VI.
You can still see coins bearing the portrait of George VI at the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra.(Wikimedia commons)

A few months after her death in 1952, the Royal Mint Advisory Board launched a competition to design her daughter’s effigy for coins and banknotes in the UK and other countries, including Australia. .

Seventeen artists were invited to submit designs, and of these, two sculptors were chosen to have seances with the Queen.

They were Mary Gillick, 71, and Cecil Thomas, 67.

In the end, Gillick triumphed with his “fresh” and “approachable” rendering of the young monarch with a laurel wreath in his hair, instead of a crown on his head.

The new coins came out the following year, while those featuring King George VI slowly fell out of circulation.

An Australian coin with a young Queen Elizabeth II on the reverse.  She wears a crown on her head.
In Australia, the design has been described as “unconventional”.(Supplied: Royal Australian Mint)

How many times have they changed the queen’s face?

The Queen’s effigy was updated in 1966 when Australia switched to decimal currency and again in 1985 and 1998 to mark the progression of her reign. The most recent change is from 2019.

Each time it evolved, the artists added their own personal touches, changing the crowns, adding jewels and engravings in the wrinkles as the queen grew older.

1966 by Arnold Machin
A 1966 Australian silver coin featuring Queen Elizabeth II as a young woman wearing a crown.
Machin’s effigy appeared on Australian coins in 1966 and on coinage in the United Kingdom two years later.(Supplied: Royal Australian Mint)
1985 by Raphael Maklouf
A 1985 Australian silver coin featuring Queen Elizabeth II wearing a crown.  She appears to be middle aged.
A 1985 Australian silver coin bearing a new effigy of Queen Elizabeth II.(Supplied: Royal Australian)
1998 by Ian Rank-Broadley
A 1999 Australian silver coin featuring Queen Elizabeth II as an old woman wearing a crown.
In 1999, sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley added some wrinkles and replaced the royal tiara with the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland diamond tiara.(Supplied: Royal Australian Mint)
2019 by Jody Clark
A 2019 Australian coin featuring a new effigy of Queen Elizabeth II as an old woman.  She wears a necklace and a crown.
In 2019, engraver Jody Clark brought back the royal tiara and added some bold new jewelry.(Supplied: Royal Australian Mint)

What happens to the head on the play now?

New coins will have to be designed with the effigy of King Charles III.

In line with past practice, Australian coins will use an effigy of the king provided by the Royal Mint of the United Kingdom.

However, there will be a slight difference – it will face left.

A silver coin with Prince Charles' face engraved on it.
A special coin issued in the UK for the 70th birthday of Prince Charles. As king, he will face the other way on the pieces.(Supplied: Royal Mint)

This is a tradition that dates back to the reign of Charles II in the 1600s, which dictates that each new king or queen must alternate the direction of their gaze.

Charles III should be on the coins in 2023

In recent months, the Australian Treasury has worked with the Royal Australian Mint and the Perth Mint to plan the change of effigy on Australian coins.

The transition to Australian coins minted with the likeness of King Charles III is expected to occur gradually in the coming period.

And the Royal Australian Mint expects Charles III to be on coins in 2023.

But as the transition may take some time, coins featuring the late queen may continue to be minted.

As existing coins bearing the late Queen are legal tender, coins bearing the likeness of either sovereign will mingle in circulation.

And the $5 bill?

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) says it is traditional for the monarch to appear on the lowest denomination of Australian banknotes.

This was not always the case – King George VI was in fact featured on all Australian banknotes during his reign.

But after his death, it was decided that it was easier for the monarch to only appear on one.

After the Queen’s death, the RBA released a statement saying there would be “no immediate changes” to Australian banknotes.

A purple Australian $5 banknote featuring the face of Queen Elizabeth II.
The old model Australian $5 banknote, which was replaced in 2016.(Provided: Reserve Bank of Australia)

And you don’t have to worry about losing your hard-earned money.

The RBA claims that all Australian banknotes issued from 1913 onwards remain legal tender.

“The $5 notes bearing the likeness of Her Majesty The Queen may continue to be used,” the RBA statement read.

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