Aug 042014

BillyA quintessential item of the Australian bush, the billy tin, billy can or plain billy, is a metal cooking pot with a lid and wire handle used on the campfire, especially for making tea.

Contrary to one popularly held belief, the name has nothing to do with the Aboriginal word ‘billabong’ (waterhole). Rather, it is believed, it comes from the Scottish term ‘billy-pot’, meaning cooking utensil.

The term was in use by the first Australian gold rush in 1851, which saw many thousands of men living in makeshift camps surrounding the diggings. Billy tins came came to symbolise the spirit of exploration in the outback, and were frequently referenced in the works of colonial bush poets and writers such as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson.


Oh there once was a swagman camped in the billabongs,
Under the shade of a Coolibah tree;
And he sang as he looked at the old billy boiling
Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.

– original first verse by A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson.

World War One

During the First World War, the humble billy tin took on added significance. At Christmas 1915, thousands of Australian troops received a billy tin full of ‘comforts’ from back home.

Extracts from The Queenslander newspaper dated 23 October 1915 describing efforts to send billy tins to the front. These activities, often run by The Red Cross and Australian Comforts Fund, were typical across the entire country:
“In a fortnight no fewer than 14,000 billycans have been packed with comforts of various sorts and despatched in some 400 crates for Egypt, there to be distributed among the Queensland soldiers who are doing their duty for their country by fighting its enemies.

Members of 4th Australian Field Ambulance displaying their Christmas billies in January 1916. The men are wearing the lids on their heads. [Australian War Memorial P01116024]

The scheme was organised by Mrs. Spencer Browne (wife of Colonel Spencer Browne, who is now in command of an infantry brigade at the Front), and the co-operation of the “Courier” having been secured, a committee was formed and invitations were broadcast over the country to friends and well-wishers of soldiers to buy billy cans from the committee and return them to the depot in the Courier Building filled for shipment. The response was immediate and enthusiastic. The depot was besieged by applicants for “billies,” who returned them in a few days well filled with tobacco, cigarettes, pipes, pocket knives, tooth brushes, handkerchiefs, nuts, sweets, and a hundred and one other small luxuries dear to the heart of the man on active service.”

The ANZAC Spirit 100th Anniversary Coin Series
2014 1/2oz Silver Proof Three-Coin Set

In recognition of the significance of the Australian billy tin during World War I, The Perth Mint is offering a free replica tin to the first 2,500 collectors who subscribe to our 1/2oz silver proof coin program from the ANZAC Spirit 100th Anniversary Coin Series.

This nostalgic gift, which will be dispatched to subscribers with the 2015 Set, is designed to hold all 15 Australian 1/2oz silver coins issued between 2014 and 2018, providing a stunning alternative means of presenting and protecting the collection.

To discover more about the coins, which tell the story of Australia’s involvement in WWI, and exactly how you can take advantage of this iconic Australian memento, please click here.



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