There was a record spike in the value of banknotes in circulation during early 2020 as people hoarded $50 and $100 notes as a “store of wealth” in uncertain times.

But the withdrawal of smaller notes used for day-to-day purchases declined sharply, and 30 per cent of people quizzed by the RBA said they’d permanently be using less cash after the pandemic.

Nakamura with his new QR code, which other Sydney buskers said was a must-have.Credit:Oscar Colman

Only 7 per cent of in-person transactions in Australia were made with cash in 2021, said FIS in its latest Global Payments Report, while mobile wallet payments made up 11 per cent of transactions, credit cards were at 35 per cent and debit cards at 41 per cent.

Australia will have the fourth most cash-averse economy by 2024, FIS estimated, with about 2 per cent of in-store purchases made with cash. developed the digital tipping site used by Nakamura in 2015. In the first six months of the pandemic, the site processed 80 times the number of tips they’d seen before COVID-19 as people ditched coins.

The site says the average digital tip is “frankly huge” compared to cash. In February the average tip made through was $10.

But long-time Sydney busker Sasha Pak said the technology hadn’t been enough to offset the lack of coins hitting his hat.

“QR codes and cashless payments are working, but they’re nowhere near enough to offset the impact of the trend towards cashless society,” he said.

Most buskers make extra money selling CDs and merchandise, but the City of Sydney’s busking code doesn’t allow them to actively spruik their goods. “After two years of pandemics, CD sales are even less than before,” said Pak.


Nakamura is positive about Sydney’s busking scene compared to Tokyo. There, competition for busking “pitches” was fierce, and when he finally staked out a spot for the first time, he was immediately shut down by police.

“It was a waste of energy,” he says. “Here is so nice.”

Finding a pitch certainly wasn’t a problem today. In the usually competitive hotspots of Town Hall, Pitt Street Mall and Circular Quay, Nakamura’s the only busker.

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