Metric Kate was a fictional character created in the early 1970s to assist the Australian public in the process of metrication, the transition of the imperial system of measurement to the metric system.
Whilst metric forms of measurement were technically legal in Australia from 1947, with the signing of the Metre Convention, it was not until the mid-1960s that considerable thought was put in to aligning with other countries that supported or used the metric system. Those who were pro-metric reform cited both efficiency and simplicity in teaching.
On 12 June 1970, the Australian Metric Conversion Act was given assent, creating the Metric Conversion Board (MCB) that would oversee the conversion of imperial units with the metric based International System of Units.
To help Australians with this process Metric Kate was born, her name a play on the word ‘metricate’.
Kate was described as a cartoon of a “blond haired voluptuous woman wearing a revealing pink and white dress, pink high-heeled shoes, and carrying a pink handbag” and was drawn by cartoonist William Ellis Green for state-based employer federations to circulate.
Cartoon posters of Metric Kate were endorsed by the MCB and distributed throughout Australia with Kate’s measurements in centimetres rather than inches (chest: 90 centimetres, waist: 60 centimetres, hips: 90 centimetres), along with the message ‘THINK METRIC KATE!’
Imagery also exists of Metric Kate being played by an actress (pictured) dressed in mod style fashion and posing in the protest mindset that drove the 1970s generation. The Standards Association of Australia (SAA), today known as Standards Australia, used this version of Metric Kate for six years to help assist in popularising metrics.
Standards, of course, played a contributing factor in the success of metrication in Australia. Standards gradually replaced imperial measurements due to the hard work of SAA’s technical committees, with SAA’s Deputy Director Ian Stewart appointed to the MCB to manage 11 industry specific areas.
Together with Metric Kate’s publicity, SAA sold standards and additional literature to help Australians with the change, including a green and yellow imperial to metric conversion slide.