The $2 coin

Australia got rid of $2 notes in 1988. I’m old enough to remember that though it probably seemed like an enormous amount of money to me at the time. The earlier replacement of the $1 note by the $1 coin in 1984 is at the very edge of my memory.

In early adulthood I headed overseas and was away for a long time. I soon adapted to using pounds sterling. I also spent six months in Spain and became used to euros, to the point where I could automatically tell all the smaller coins apart. I’m not sure I could do that now.

Australian coins are different to those for euros or sterling. For a start, Australia doesn’t have 1 and 2 cent coins. They were taken out of circulation in 1992 after inflation had made them nearly worthless. New Zealand had already done the same thing and the UK and the Eurozone ought to follow suit.

Australia’s 20c and 50c coins are heavy and clunky and as a kid I was told that it was because the 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins are all proportionally weighted, so that for example a 50c coin weighs ten times what a 5c coin does. That’s not actually true, a bit of research showing that a 50c only weighs a little more than a 20c. The real reason is that Australia used to have British-style pounds, shillings and pence and simply copied the coin sizes over when the currency was decimalised in 1966. Britain and New Zealand probably did the same but have since resized their coins. Australia hasn’t.

Still, an unofficial rule of the world’s currencies is that bigger coins of the same colour are worth more. The Australian $2 bucks this trend, being slightly thicker but significantly smaller than the $1. This was controversial when it came out in 1988 but everyone soon got used to it.

But it takes foreigners by surprise. I ran into a couple from New Zealand a few years ago in London and the conversation somehow got to $2 coins. “Australia has ridiculous tiny things,” they said. On my rare visits back to Australia I couldn’t help agreeing.

But you know something? Having been back in the country for about seven weeks, the $2 coins are growing on me. They’re fat enough that you don’t lose them and having a small but relatively high-valued coin turns out to be convenient. I don’t think I’d now want them any other way.

The Melancholy Roman

“Alas, poor Yorick!

“I knew him, Horatio.”

The quote is from Hamlet, act 5 scene 1. Hamlet and his friend Horatio have encountered a gravedigger. After some discussion, the gravedigger picks up a skull and asks Hamlet to guess whose it was. When he can’t answer, the gravedigger tells him that it was Yorick, the court jester. Hamlet responds with the famous line. It is often misquoted as “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well.”

The picture at the top of this post was taken just outside Aileen Plant Park. This small, fenced-off nature reserve is in the Perth suburb of Murdoch, about a minute’s walk from the train station. It is bordered by the station car park and Barry Marshall Parade and Fiona Wood Road.

Nearby is Fiona Stanley Hospital, named for the epidemiologist. Barry Marshall Parade is named after the joint 2005 Nobel Prize winner for medicine. Fiona Wood Road is named after the prominent plastic surgeon.

Aileen Plant was also a real person, and I knew her. She was an infectious diseases epidemiologist and was Professor of International Medicine at Curtin University. She had worked for the World Health Organisation (WHO) and at one time lived in Geneva. I visited her there one weekend, flying in from London. She paid for the flight. It never occurred to me that I would never see her again.

She did a lot of good work, but her most prominent role was in 2003. The previous year an unknown infectious disease had emerged in East Asia, killing hundreds of people. It was given the name “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome,” soon abbreviated to “Sars.” The WHO sent an expert, Dr Carlo Urbani, to Vietnam to investigate. He caught the disease and died in March 2003. Aileen was sent to replace him.

She survived that one. The WHO keeps a rotation of infectious diseases experts to fly all over the world to investigate disease outbreaks and she was one of them. Most incidents never make the news.

In March 2007 she went to Jakarta to attend a conference on bird flu. After the conference she was returning to Perth when she dropped dead of a heart attack at Jakarta Airport. She was 58.

I don’t think a day has gone by since that I haven’t thought about her. Anyway, I mention all this because I lived in London for years and didn’t have a chance to investigate the park named after her. This week I finally did.

The Melancholy Roman