Decimal currency

Fifty years ago today, we changed our money from pounds, shillings and pence to dollars and cents. Before that we had a similar system to Britain’s system. There were 12 pence in a shilling, 20 shillings in a pound. Arithmetic was not easy with 240 pence to one pound. Children at school had to work out sums like this one: How many pennies in 14 pounds, 16 shillings and 11 pence? (Remember this was the days before calculators.) My answer is 3563 pence. I hope I’m right. When we changed to decimal currency, one pound became 2 dollars, 10 shillings became 1 dollar and 12 pence became 10 cents. How much easier it is today when we can say: $29 plus 69c = $29.69.

All banks closed after work (3pm) on Wednesday 5th July 1967 and reopened on Monday 10th July. Staff worked on the Thursday and Friday converting the currency.

We did not convert to decimal distance, weight and temperature until the early 1970s. Before that, we used miles, yards, feet and inches for measuring distance or height, pounds and ounces for weight, and Fahrenheit for temperature. The birth weight of babies is still sometimes given in the old measure. An average weight for a New Zealand baby boy is about 7lb 7oz which converts to 3.5kg.

It was compulsory for New Zealand businesses to use the new metric measures and that helped us to learn the new measurements quite quickly. The UK has been much slower and they still use miles instead of kilometres on their road signs, and you often see fruit and vegetables priced by the pound instead of the kilogram. 49 cents a pound seems cheaper than 99c for a kilo.

Petrol used to be sold by the gallon (1 gallon = about 4.5 litres) in New Zealand but this gallon is not the same as the American gallon. The US uses decimal currency for their money but imperial measurements for distance, weight and temperature. Wouldn’t it be easier if every country used the same measurements?


• decimal – based on 10 units
• currency – money
• pence – plural for penny
• convert – change from one thing to another, often used for changing religion
• pound for money was not the same as pound for weight. We used a different symbol e.g. lb for weight. The symbol for a shilling was /-, and the symbol for a penny was d placed after the number.
• compulsory – no choice, we had to do it
• imperial measures – imperial (adjective from empire)
• measures – measurements


used to – something that happened in the past and does not happen now e.g. I used to live in X and now I live in Y.