If you’re not a numismatic (coin collector) or the parent of a primary school aged child, you could be forgiven for not having visited the Royal Australian Mint in recent years. But for many, the 3-month period between March and June when the Mint was forced to close its doors to the public was a tough time.
It was a particularly challenging time for the nine casual staff that normally conduct tours for hundreds of children and members of the public a week. With no prospect of income support, these staff were offered the chance to be redeployed to Services Australia, and while some took up this opportunity, others made the choice to take some time away from work.
The Mint’s Acting Education and Visitor Services Manager, Holly Anderson praised the resilience of the staff, proudly telling us that they have been able to bolster their front-facing staff numbers by over 30%.
“We actually had to run a recruitment drive in June after reopening,” said Holly. “Now we’re happy to say we have increased the number of staff to 12. It’s nice to be able to support people in this time.”
Creating coins for circulation was deemed an essential service, though orders for coins dropped significantly as everyone was encouraged to use contactless payment methods, and there was a general reluctance towards handling cash.
Not everything at the Mint slowed down over the shutdown period though. One aspect actually took off dramatically – investments were really strong as there was a rush from all sorts of people who wanted to invest in precious metals such as gold and silver.
As well as investments, collectables remained a constant, including this collection of electrifying AC/DC commemorative coins. Staff who would normally be producing coins for circulation assisted the investment and collectible sections of the Mint to ensure there was plenty of work to go around.
“Our collectables are still going really well, and we were able to negotiate with stakeholders to continue several planned projects and reschedule other projects for upcoming years instead,” said Anderson.
“We’ve been doing a staged reopening and the turnout and support from locals has been incredible. The school holidays especially, we have had a 95% book out rate and we’re operating at capacity.”
In more good news, as of Monday the 28th of September free public tours are once more being offered. Bookings are strongly encouraged, and additional safety measures have been put in place to ensure everyone can enjoy their visit with peace of mind.
“While we’ve been open since June and they’ve been able to speak one on one with visitors, this school holidays was the first time we’ve been able to properly hold tours. The staff have all loved getting back in the swing of it!”
One of the Mint’s most popular programs, Mini-Minties, was fortunately able to restart during the recent school holidays. The imaginative program aimed at 4 to 6-year-olds has covered all sorts of different Mint and coin themes in the past; think gallery exploration, arts and crafts, drama workshops and lots of robots.
The free display currently on show is titled ‘Eureka! Stories from the Goldfields’, and showcases some of the stories, characters, and objects from arguably the most dynamic period in Australia’s history since European settlement.
“For the last three years the annual Mintmark theme has begun focusing on some of Australia’s recent history, looking at convict migration, bushrangers, and now the gold rush,” said Holly.
“We’re excited to be looking at this period, as this was really the turning point in our history that allowed us to create the first Australian Mints. Before then the country was still mainly sending gold back to England. It was a drastic change to be able to keep the gold here and start turning it into Australian coins.”
When you walk into the display, you’re greeted by a massive life-sized replica of the ‘Welcome Stranger’ nugget, the largest alluvial nugget ever found in Australia.
Discovered in February 1869 at Moliagul in Victoria, the nugget was found near the base of a tree just 3cm below the surface. The refined weight of the nugget was estimated to be over 70kg, making it worth more than $4 million if sold in today’s market.
Sadly, no photographs were taken of the nugget, and at the time of discovery there were no scales capable of weighing a nugget this size. It was broken into three pieces before being melted down into ingots that were shipped back to England just 16 days after the discovery.
Asked if there were any more exciting plans in the works for the Mint, Holly coyly responded. “One-hundred percent! But I can’t tell you about any of them.”
It seems the Mint’s secrets are as well-guarded as a prospector’s most successful claim, but Holly assured us there was always something either being planned or in the pipeline, so keep your eyes on their website for more announcements!