Life Sentences - The change in your pocket

Karen Fox, 'The change in your pocket', ANU Reporter, vol 45, no 2, Winter 2014, Life Sentences, p 60

Inspired by a recent trip to the Royal Australian Mint, where I discovered how commemorative coins are created, I've been exploring that heavy collection of shrapnel in my bag with fresh interest.

I've been fascinated by Australia's large variety of commemorative coins since I arrived from New Zealand as a postgraduate and found a coin remembering the centenary of women's suffrage in my change.

Like that one, many of the commemorative coins produced by the Mint mark the anniversaries of historic events, or recall significant moments in the nation's history.

The Bicentenary saw a special 50c piece, and the centenary of the founding of Canberra a unique 20c coin.

In 2001 a range of 20c, 50c and $1 coins marked one hundred years since Federation.

The life stories of many of the key figures involved in these events – from women's suffrage campaigner Vida Goldstein to 'Father of Federation' Henry Parkes – are found in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB).

Not only events but also individual lives have been celebrated with commemorative coins.

Sir Donald Bradman, Australia's most famous cricketer, appeared on a coin of his own after his death in 2001 (a 20c).

Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, the Brisbane-born aviator who served at Gallipoli and completed record-breaking flights across the Pacific and the Atlantic in 1928 and 1930 before disappearing on a flight from England to Australia in 1935, featured on a $1 coin in 1997, celebrating the centenary of his birth.

A 50c piece in 1970 remembered James Cook's voyage 200 years before.

And Sir Donald Bradman, Australia's most famous cricketer, appeared on a coin of his own after his death in 2001 (a 20c).

Like Parkes and Goldstein, Kingsford Smith and Cook are included in the ADB. Bradman's story is yet to come, as the ADB is currently engaged in preparing the biographies of people who died between 1991 and 2000.

The Mint is also responsible for producing the medals and insignia received by those appointed to the Order of Australia.

The ADB tells the stories of many appointees, including some who became a knight or dame in the Order when it last included those titles in 1976-86.

So next time you get an unusual coin in your change, take a minute, like me, to explore the stories that inspired it.

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