When Australia moved to decimal currency in 1966, counterfeiters had an unprecedented opportunity to forge high quality banknotes while the public was getting used to the new currency. In 1967, Herbert ‘Nugget’ Coombes, the first Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (which was formed in 1960) assembled a think-tank at a well-known alpine retreat called Mt Thredbo, and it was there during a brainstorming session that plastic notes were first suggested. A young scientist working for the CSIRO (the Government’s R&D division) David Solomon, was intrigued by the idea and took up the challenge with support from management.
It took 20 years of development involving material science, the development of new inks, learning how to apply optically-variable devices (OVDs) to plastic, a secret printing plant in Port Melbourne, and the production of $3 and $7 test notes. The organisational breakthrough came in 1982 when Professor Solomon convinced the new RBA Governor, Bob Johnston, to participate in a blind feel test of a polymer note versus a paper note. The Governor couldn’t tell the difference, and in considering the enormous body of the work the CSIRO had put behind the technology, agreed to employ scientists at NPA to begin the technology transfer. In 1987, the RBA paid the CSIRO A$8 million for the rights and the technology.
In 1988, the world’s first polymer banknote was issued – the now famous $10 Bicentennial Note – and today, polymer banknote technology is being used in more than 50 countries on more than 150 denominations. Polymer banknote technology has gone down in history as one of Australia’s greatest inventions and exports and is a point of national pride.