Dec­i­mal Girl marks the decades of change

Kapi-Mana News - - CONVERSATIONS - VIR­GINIA FAL­LON

Marie Sum­mers thought she had got away with it this year.

Her 60th birth­day had come and gone and, for the first time in 50 years, she hadn’t had a pesky reporter come knock­ing.

Ev­ery decade, the Kapiti woman’s been vis­ited by a news­pa­per pho­tog­ra­pher want­ing to mark a no­table event in New Zealand’s his­tory, but this year she thought she had out­wit­ted the press with a birth­day trip out of town.

‘‘Then you got in touch and I knew the pa­per had found me,’’ she roared with laugh­ter.

It was a cake cov­ered in dol­lar signs that be­gan it all.

Pounds and pence be­came dol­lars and cents on July 10, 1967, the same day the girl from Is­land Bay (then Marie Keith) cel­e­brated her 10th birth­day.

An un­cle phoned The Evening Post, who snapped the birth­day girl with her home-made cake – and the rest, as they say, was his­tory.

Marie Sum­mers had be­come the pa­per’s ‘Dec­i­mal Girl’ or ‘‘Miss Dec­i­mal Coinage’’.

Fifty years later, as half a cen­tury of the new money is marked, Dec­i­mal Girl said she never re­ally un­der­stood what the fuss was all about.

‘‘I did feel like a celebrity with my photo on the front page of The Evening Post though.’’

She may be mostly non­plussed about the me­dia at­ten­tion but she’s star­tled by how quickly the years have gone by.

‘‘They’ve been a pretty happy 50 years though.’’

This week she re­called the 21st birth­day shoot that saw her snapped with a bot­tle of cham­pagne and the $1 note she had held on to from her 10th birth­day.

‘‘It wasn’t my bot­tle, it was a bot­tle off the shelf [of her em­ployer] and I had to put it back af­ter­wards.’’

The cov­er­age be­came part of her life, she said, some­thing to be, re­luc­tantly, ex­pected and ac­cepted.

In 1997, to mark the 30-year an­niver­sary – or ‘‘DC day’’ – The Post caught up with the 40-yearold, who by then had two teenage sons.

‘‘I knew I should have gone away this week, ‘‘ she joked then.

In 2007 when The Do­min­ion Post vis­ited, Sum­mers was about to cel­e­brate her 50th birth­day with a quiet fam­ily din­ner and wasn’t ex­pect­ing an­other cake with dol­lar signs.

‘‘It’s re­ally hard to be­lieve that it’s 40 years since it hap­pened.’’

Asked what she thought about the new 50, 20, and 10 cent coins, in­tro­duced the year be­fore, she didn’t mince words.

‘‘I hate them. I have ter­ri­ble trou­ble be­tween the 50 and 20 cent coins.’’

Sum­mers may have been the hu­man face of the cur­rency change but the move was a big deal for the whole coun­try.

Dec­i­mal­i­sa­tion had been in the works for decades and by the 1960s both Na­tional and Labour par­ties favoured the change.

The Na­tional govern­ment an­nounced the change in 1963; it would be over­seen by fu­ture prime min­is­ter Rob Mul­doon, the un­der-sec­re­tary of fi­nance from 1964.

Af­ter the date had been set­tled on, the next de­ci­sion was what to call the coun­try’s new cur­rency. Sug­ges­tions of crown, fern, Kiwi and zeal were floated but the plain old ‘dol­lar’ was fi­nally set­tled on and the govern­ment came up with a few novel ways to help New Zealan­ders get ready.

A car­toon ‘‘Mr Dol­lar’’ be­came the face of the tran­si­tion, and Ki­wis were told in a 1966 jin­gle not to ‘‘shed a tear in July next year for cum­ber­some pounds and pence’’.

Banks closed for nearly a week so they could or­gan­ise and con­vert their records be­fore the big day – 27 mil­lion new ban­knotes and 165 mil­lion new coins had been dis­trib­uted.

The new money was val­ued at $120 mil­lion and weighed more than 700 tonnes. The new coins came in de­nom­i­na­tions of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents.

Ini­tial de­signs had been crit­i­cised by the Royal Mint and images of the pro­posed new coins that were leaked to the pub­lic in early 1966 were also un­pop­u­lar.

Even­tu­ally, the pub­lic got the chance to vote for the coins they wanted via forms pub­lished in news­pa­pers and James Berry’s de­signs were cho­sen for all six coins.

As an at­tempt to thwart would-be coun­ter­feit­ers, the notes were kept se­cret un­til June 1967.

On the big day, real-size pic­tures of the new coins and notes were printed on The Do­min­ion‘ s front page .

Fifty years af­ter the oc­ca­sion, Marie Sum­mers, aka Dec­i­mal Girl, aka Miss Dec­i­mal Coinage, said she never re­ally cared about the new cur­rency. ‘‘I still don’t,’’ she laughed.

‘‘I did feel like a celebrity with my photo on the front page of The Evening Post though.’’

PHOTO: ROB KITCHIN/STUFF

Marie Sum­mers from Para­pa­raumu turned 10 on the day the NZ dec­i­mal cur­rency changed.

EVENING POST

Marie Keith, Miss Dec­i­mal Coinage, on July 10, 1967, pic­tured with her 10th birth­day cake, a set of dec­i­mal coins and $I note she was given in hon­our of her role.

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