True Minties (the lollies) would have gone soft in the hot sun but lots of the human Minties queueing outside the Royal Australian Mint yesterday morning had come prepared with bright beach umbrellas.
Mint staff give the affectionate name "Minties" to people who frequent the Mint and Thursday morning's human Minties were queueing to be the first 100 souls to ceremonially mint and take home the 2015 $1 "C" Mintmark Uncirculated Coin - Anzac Centenary. The coins they were about to mint, Mint chief executive Ross MacDiarmid was to point out a little later (at 10am) after the Minties had gambolled into the building, were the first coins minted anywhere in the world this year. Yesterday's new $1 coins, like the others in the Centenary series, feature a design in which Australians on Gallipoli stand sentinel as a bugler sounds the Last Post.
By the time the doors were opened the queue along the sunny side of the Mint and round a corner was 125 metres long. Coin-collecting (like earnest collecting of all kinds) can bring out the harmless fanaticism in some souls. For the third year in succession youthful collector Harley Russo was at the head of the queue, having been there (with considerable family support) since Christmas night.
To be the first in the queue was to get a special certificate and a special boxed set of the whole Anzac Centenary range of coins.
No hardships of queuing (like having to pee in a bucket, his family cackled yesterday morning) were going to daunt the firmly focused Harley. Methought he had about him some of the steely focus, where coin collecting is concerned, that Steve Waugh used to show about captaining Australian cricket teams. Harley had even brought a rubber glove to wear so as not to let sweaty fingers spoil the lustre of the coin when he minted it.
The further one went along the queue, after Harley, the less steely the queuers became. Only a few spots along there was the fairly steely John Farrer, of Canberra. He had joined a moonlit queue at 1 o'clock that morning. He is an emeritus coin collector (I wasn't impertinent enough to ask him his age) and has been collecting since he was five and so must have a fantastic hoard of doubloons even though (a man of few words, of almost no words at all, really) he would only admit that "I keep a few, yes."
Further along still there was nothing steely at all about affable Trevor Lavele, his companion Brenda Lawrence and their snoozing, golden-fleeced little dog Boo-Boo. From Wallaroo on Cape York Peninsula, they'd only begun queuing at about 8am but were still certain of being in the top 100.
To relieve the tedium, Trevor was pretending, he laughed, "I'm queuing for my Woodstock tickets."
"We're on a retirement holiday for six months and were visiting Canberra anyway. But there is some history behind it because my grandfather was in the Commonwealth Police and he was one of the first police working here at the Mint when it opened. I first came here [still unborn] when my mum was six months pregnant. She'd come to Canberra to see my grandfather."
He's a coin collector "and I've got a couple of grandsons, six and seven, and I've got them into collecting. I've basically given them my collection to start them off in their first collections. So since we were here in Canberra I thought I'd come today and get the boys some first editions."
As 10 am approached it became hot outside the Mint. Warmed-up cicadas began to shrill. One family that had come without beach umbrellas had set up an ingenious sun-shelter made of blankets. But it was hot in there and tempers were fraying.
"I hate you!" one voice trilled.
"I hate you!" another voice retorted.
But minutes later there was love in the air when the doors opened, the collectors and their retinues tumbled into the cool of the Mint's foyer, gathered under the ceiling art of hundreds of dangling coins, and were addressed by Ross MacDiarmid.
He told them that this year marks the Mint's 50th birthday (it was opened in 1965 by the Queen's dear husband, Prince Philip) and that "In that time, wait for it ... the Mint has supplied 14.5 billion coins!"
While he spoke Harley, focused and purposeful, pulled on his rubber glove in anticipation of getting his, Harley's, gloved hand on the very first of the 2015 $1 "C" Mintmark Uncirculated Coin - Anzac Centenary coins.
This columnist left early. Outside, where 10 minutes previously there had been a teeming queue, there was not a living thing to be seen save for the waiting Boo-Boo, a four-legged Mintie, gently tethered to a chair.