New Royal Australian Mint CEO Leigh Gordon is old enough to remember the transition to decimal currency, but has a new understanding of the coin collecting craze after his first day on the job on 1 February, 2021.
“I can tell you that I’m definitely a coin collector now,” he tells Region Media, noting that one in five Australians have collected coins at some stage.
“I recall my now-adult children collecting coins such as the different 50-cent pieces and all the different dollar coins. I can certainly understand what motivates collectors and have empathy for the lengths they go to collect the coins we release.”
A special-release $100 coin celebrating the Milky Way was released on 4 February, 2021, and sold out within one day. In November 2020, the limited mintage of 40,000 uncirculated $2 coins honouring Australia’s firefighters sold out within days at $15 each. The circulated version for $10 was also hot property.
It is easy to see why coins are big business for the Royal Australian Mint and for collectors, but Leigh says you only have to meet the mint’s visitors to see why it is an institution for Canberra and Australia.
“If you want to energise yourself, you only have to wander down when a school group is in to see the buzz and activity of the place,” he says.
“When school went back on the Monday, we had a school group from Newcastle in on the Tuesday. We hold the national coin collection so the stories that are in each of our releases are a piece of history.”
While the mint closed for about three months in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, visitor numbers are already on track to meet the more than 367,000 people who walked through its doors in 2019.
Leigh has arrived at the mint after serving in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) for 37 years. He retired at the rank of Air Vice-Marshal in November 2019.
As a member of the Department of Defence’s senior leadership group, he was head of the Joint Strike Force Division and the Aerospace Systems Division. He had a leading role in the historic arrival of Australia’s first F-35A Lightning II aircraft, which he describes as “one of the Air Force’s most inspirational” aircraft.
In the centenary year of the RAAF, Leigh says there are more than just symbolic synergies between his new role and his Air Force career.
“It’s a nice coincidence that I’ve come to the mint in the centenary year of the Air Force, but it is also appropriate for the mint to help tell the stories of the men and women who have served during the past 100 years,” he says.
“The mint does the same for other institutions, but there is a degree of personal satisfaction when I see a tribute to Robyn Clay-Williams, who was one of the first two women to graduate with wings from the Flying Training School as pilots in the Air Force.
“Robyn was a cadet when I was a cadet. I was also an engineering officer at the Flying Training School when she was going through her course so it feels very special to now be part of an institution that recognises the efforts of people such as Robyn.”
Leigh has lived in Kaleen with his wife since 1996, apart from a four-year posting with the Air Force. His two children have also flown the coop to Melbourne and Newcastle, and he can be found rowing on Lake Burley Griffin most mornings.
He sees the curating of coins as an “exquisite technical challenge” and the story of the mint as one that improves the financial literacy of people, despite demand for coins as currency dropping, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Leigh says more people are investing in collectable coins which is where the currency of the mint will remain strong.
“It’s been a real treat to meet all of the people here who meet the challenge of making a coin,” he says. “But it’s not just about the coins, it’s about having a solid institution that people feel helps tell the stories, and that is something I’m very proud to be a part of.”