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Stylised kangaroo design in Aboriginal style. Set against a seven pointed Federation Star. Script: Latin Lettering: ONE DOLLAR Designer: Stuart Devlin

1988 Australia Bicentenary dollar

A coin which might be controversial today

Stylised kangaroo design in Aboriginal style. Set against a seven pointed Federation Star.

Script: Latin

Lettering: ONE DOLLAR

Designer: Stuart Devlin Read more on Wikipedia

Matthew Thompson from Thompson’s coins, posted a video of his three favourite Australian dollar coins you can find in change. This is a topic I really like – mints release so many “collector” coins, many of which are certainly beautiful. But to me, coins which CIRCULATED, coins which had or have a real purpose, have always been more interesting. The three he picked are definitely great coins, and I was almost tempted to write a piece on the original 1984 dollar coin. But instead, I thought I’d write up the coin which has always been my favourite dollar coin. And this process has certainly challenged that.

1988 was Australia’s Bicentenary, or at least, 200 years since the First (European) Fleet arrived in Australia with settlers and convicts from England. A moment in time which marked a larger (and arguably not positive) turning point for indigenous Australians than anyone else. The 1988 Australian dollar coin attempted to recognise Aboriginal Australians with an Aboriginal-style design Kangaroo on a star with 7 visible points. The star is a reference to Australia’s Federation star on the Flag. One point for each state (Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania) and one for the territories (particularly the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory).

I always liked the nod to the first Australian’s on this coin. But in researching this, I realised, the coin was designed by Stuart Devlin. I vaguely knew that, and as someone who designed Australia’s decimal currency original, not a surprising name to see against an Australia coin. A supremely talented coin designer, who no doubt has the respect of all who have seen his work. But not, himself, indigenous. Is that a problem? In 2023, if you were designing an Indigenous-themed coin, I am sure there would be an outcry if you didn’t have an indigenous artist at least on the design team, if not leading it for such a project. I can’t find anything saying whether anyone helped Stuart with the design of this coin, or if he consulted with anyone on it. I also can’t find anything calling the piece problematic. So, I don’t know either way, but it has certainly given me pause.

Australia does have a number of numismatic pieces either completely or partly designed by indigenous artists. The one dollar note, produced from 1966 – 1984 featured Indigenous design, based on bark painting by artist David Malangi Daymirringu, a Yolngu man from what is now northeastern Arnhem Land, and others.

The Reserve Bank’s governor at the time was HC “Nugget” Coombs, a strong advocate for Indigenous Australians. But to his later embarrassment, it turned out no one at the bank thought to ask permission to copy the artworks used in the design – nor offer payment. Coombs did make amends, ensuring the artist was paid fairly.

Australia’s $50 note and $2 coin both feature Indigenous Australians.

The 2014 50c coin commemorating the 50th anniversary of AIATSIS (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies), primarily features the AIATSIS logo. This logo features the Koko Bera-Kungen Shield designed by indigenous artists George Wilson, Claude Ponto and John William Malcolm.

The 2021 Indigenous military service coloured two-dollar coin was designed by Aboriginal artist Chern’ee Sutton.

Back to the 1988 dollar coin, the obverse was the standard obverse for Australian coins of the time:

3rd portrait of Queen Elizabeth II facing right wearing the King George IV State Diadem Script: Latin Lettering: ELIZABETH II AUSTRALIA 1988 RDM Designer: Raphael David Maklouf Read more on Wikipedia

Queen Elizabeth II looking a little spotty on this example, purely because I picked a circulation example, in keeping with the theme I started this piece with, rather than an uncirculated or proof coin. The portrait is the third (Australian) Portrait of the Queen, in use on coins from 1985 – 1998. Australian one and two dollar coins are made of Aluminium-Bronze, an alloy which gives the coin a gold colour – but which does not retain an uncirculated state for long in use.

So, is the 1988 dollar still my favourite? I’m not sure. Had it been designed by an indigenous artist, absolutely. So is this coin controversial? Hard to say, I certainly don’t have any negative feelings about Stuart Devlin, even if he did design the piece without indigenous input (and I still don’t know either way). Even if he did design it alone, it is important to recognise things in the context of their time. Would it be done the same way 35 years later? No, likely not, and that’s fine, but it’s not an excuse to destroy the past either, rather to see if we can learn from it.

So finally, if I’m not sure about this coin being my favourite dollar coin… which dollar coin is? Good question…. Likely one for another post! But what do YOU think? Is this coin controversial? Tell us in the comments – or tell us what the most controversial coin (from any country) is – I’d love to know, and maybe find the most controversial coin to write up a piece on as well!

Stylised kangaroo design in Aboriginal style. Set against a seven pointed Federation Star. Script: Latin Lettering: ONE DOLLAR Designer: Stuart Devlin





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