Brave government turned currency, measuring upside down
Two months back, we should have celebrated half a century of the Australian metric system, June 12 to be precise.
I don't recall The Chronicle reporting it, and indeed I don't recall anybody saying anything about it, which is a real shame because it was a very important date in the evolution of our little country.
Brave governments we had in the 1960s to have the courage to turn our currency and measuring systems upside down.
February 14, 1966 is a date which will live in our memory forever because it marked the conclusion of the best advertising campaign ever witnessed.
Enter decimal currency.
The measuring system was a different beast with a list of weights and measures as long as your arm.
They included inch, foot, yard, chain, furlong, knot, mile, league, fathom, nautical mile, rod, acre, fluid ounce, pint, gallon, ounce, pound, stone, hundredweight and ton.
Many of these had strange origins particularly the yard which King Henry I of England fixed as the distance between his nose and the thumb on his out-stretched arm.
Enter the Metric Conversion Board which had the daunting task of switching from all of the above to new words like metre, kilometre, centimetre, millimetre, gram, kilogram, litre and millilitre.
Not surprisingly there was resistance from traditionalists as well as the confused.
It made a lot of sense to me as it seemed simpler to be dealing in tens and hundreds rather than the illogical sixteens, fourteens and twelves as in pounds, stones and inches.
It took sixteen years for the full rollout of the metric system with the wool industry embracing it in 1971 closely followed by the racing industry which, I should add, still uses the word "furlong" although races are in metres.
Schools taught both imperial and metric for a while and in 1973 imperial was just a memory.
Road signs presented an enormous challenge for organisers, just imagine how many had to be replaced across the nation?
I grew up with two-sided concrete mile posts across NSW and the ACT, and you still see the odd one beside the road.
Soon ten kilometre distance signs appeared and later five kilometre signs were added.
Half a century later and we're fully metricised although oldies like me are still dividing then multiplying metric numbers to determine the real temperature, rainfall, distance etc.
Some beautiful old imperial words remain in our vocabulary like ton, acre, pint, point, foot, yard and schooner as well as some permanent old sayings like "in for a penny in for a pound" and "give an inch and they'll take a mile."