January 26 is Australia Day. This year, we thought we’d mark the occasion by looking at Who’s Who on Australia’s currency. After all, we carry these people around in our pockets all day.
Australia’s $100 note has a face on each side. On one side is Dame Nellie Melba, a famous soprano born in inner-city Melbourne in 1861. Her real name was Helen Mitchell – she used the term ‘Melba’ as a reference to her hometown. Probably a good thing she wasn’t from Hobart, lest she become Dame Nellie Hobo.
On the other side is General Sir John Monash. Australia’s most famous soldier, he was a civil engineer who led several divisions of the Australian Army during the First World War. He also was born in inner-city Melbourne, this time in 1865. After the war, he was responsible for the repatriation of Australian soldiers and became Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, which was Melbourne’s only university at the time. Melbourne’s second university was named Monash University and opened in 1958, 27 years after Sir John passed away.
The $50 note also has a face on each side. On one side is David Unaipon. Born in 1872 in South Australia, Unaipon was a member of the Ngarrindjerri people. Something of a polymath, he was the first aboriginal person to have a book published. He was also an inventor, bookkeeper, bootmaker, religious preacher and – somewhat confusingly – an expert on ballistics.
On the flipside of the $50 note you will find an image of Australia’s first female parliamentarian, Edith Cowan. Also born in 1861, Cowan came into the world on a sheep station near Geraldton on Australia’s West Coast. Having fought for women’s suffrage in 1899, she entered the Western Australian parliament having been elected in 1921, the first year in which women were allowed to run for election. Perth’s Edith Cowan University is named after her.
One side of the $20 note holds an image of the founder of Australia’s flying doctor service, John Flynn. Born in a small Victorian town in November 1880, two weeks after Ned Kelly was hanged, Flynn initially became a teacher and trained for religious ministry. He initially ministered in outback South Australia, where he devised the idea for a visiting medical service that would travel by aeroplane. The first branch of what is now known as the Royal Flying Doctor Service launched from Queensland’s Cloncurry in 1928.
Flynn shares the $20 note with an image of Mary Raibey. Raibey was born in Lancashire and transported to Australia as a convict. Her crime was to steal a horse at the age of 14, having run away from home. She was transported for seven years. Upon arrival in Australia, she married (at the age of 17). She and her husband developed substantial business interests. He died in 1811 and she continued to manage the businesses for the next several decades. She became a community leader and philanthropist and died in 1855.
One side of the $10 note has an image of Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson. Born near Orange, NSW, in 1864, Paterson was a poet and writer, perhaps best known for writing ‘Waltzing Matilda,’ a poem which has frequently been suggested for Australia’s national anthem. Paterson also wrote ‘The Man From Snowy River’ which was later made into a movie.
Born in 1865, again in outback New South Wales, Dame Mary Gilmore also features on the $10 note. Gilmore was a journalist and writer. Something of a left-winger, she was an advocate for Australia’s disadvantaged people. Her poem, ‘No Foe Shall Gather Our Harvest’ became a call to arms for Australians during the First World War. She too has a Canberra suburb named after her.
Only one person appears on the $5 note: Queen Elizabeth of England. She is, of course, also Australia’s Queen and it is an Australian tradition for the monarch to feature on the lowest denomination of ‘paper’ currency. From time to time, there is a call for this tradition to be done away with. Most recently, there was a movement to place an image of Fred Hollows, the New Zealand-born Australian ophthalmologist, on the $5 note.
Interestingly, Queen Elizabeth is the only person to feature on Australia’s paper currency who was born after the 19th century.