How pennies are used by Soldiers in the Middle East
Some 47 years after they were withdrawn from circulation, it seems that Australian pennies are indeed still circulating, although not in quite the same way they were until the late 1960's.
I understand that some Australian troops serving in the Middle East are able to use them in barter exchanges with some of the locals they encounter - perhaps not as currency per se, but as interesting mementoes from their home country that are easily discernible as being uniquely Australian, and of undoubtable, albeit modest value.
I sold a bag of pennies to a padre serving with the US armed forces, he was going to award them to a unit that had graduated
Although I haven't yet spoken to anyone directly that has or is able to use these coins when interacting with Afghan or Iraqi civilians, I can just imagine how they'd be moving around.
The page on the Australian Defence Department's website covering the role that Australian troops are playing in "Operation Slipper" describes some of the varied tasks that our men and women in uniform are carrying out while in the Middle East:
- Training and mentoring the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade in Uruzgan province to assume responsibility for the province’s security;
- Building the capacity of the Afghan National Police to assist with civil policing functions in Uruzgan;
- Helping improve the Afghan Government's capacity to deliver core services and generate income-earning opportunities for its people; and
- Operations to disrupt insurgent operations and supply routes utilising the Special Operations Task Group.
Although old coins can't really contribute much to the practical tasks listed here, I have little doubt that they'd be able to play a small but vital role in opening up channels of communication in an informal way between individual soldiers and the locals they're encountering.
If a soldier is first looking to identify themselves as being Australian, showing an old penny with a kangaroo on the reverse would certainly be one way of doing so. Kangaroos are immediately associated with Australia right around the world, coins are also used in trade right across Eastern and Western societies. To show and see a kangaroo on a coin would be a great ice-breaker when meeting someone from another culture for the first time.
Since all coins are universally known to have a (modest) tangible value, I can see they'd be ideal to use as a small gift or something to swap / exchange for an inexpensive item being sold by a local in a far-flung part of the world.
It'd be really interesting to learn more about how these coins are being used, and how much the locals are prepared to barter them for. Please post a comment below if you have any information at all!