Not a lot of people know who the people on our notes are. Some, are quite obvious while others require some level of Australian history to understand.
So, I’m here to help alleviate this problem by addressing who and what are the people on our bank notes.
Starting off with the $5 note, we have Queen Elizabeth II, Sovereign and Queen of Australia. Surprisingly the most recognisable individual on our banknotes. And on the reverse side of the note, we have a depiction of the Parliament House and the Forecourt Mosaic, as well as a schematic plan of the New Parliament House.
It also features a different species of wattle and native bird and each denomination of the new series of bank notes will feature a different wattle and native bird species in Australia. On the $5 note, the wattle depicted is the Prickly Moses Wattle (Acacia Verticillata, Ovoidea) and the Native Bird depicted is the Eastern Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris).
The $10 note, unlike the $5 note but similarly to all other denomination of Australian bank notes, features two individuals. The portraits of the two individuals are of A.B. “Banjo” Paterson and Dame Mary Gilmore. Some history of these individuals:
Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson (1864-1941) was an Australian-born poet, ballad writer, horseman and journalist, most famous for his works such as Waltzing Matilda and The Man from Snowy River. This iconic Aussie first started his early life as a Solicitor in his younger days, not putting poetic pen to paper until he was in his 30s. His first book – The Man from Snowy River- sold out of its first edition within a week.
Dame Mary Gilmore (1865-1962) was also a prolific writer and socialist, passionate about the protection of workers’ rights and the welfare of women, children and indigenous Australians. Mary moved to Sydney in 1891, where she became publicly involved in socialist circles. In 1896, Mary left Australia to live at Cosme, the second attempt of a socialist “New Australia” colony in Paraguay. There, she met and married fellow colonist, William Gilmore. (Learn more about this Socialist Colony, by clicking onto this Link)
The $10 bank note depicts a different wattle species called the Bramble Wattle (Acacia Victoriae) and depicts a native Australian bird, the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo (Cacatua Galerita).
As well as depicting images from the era of Paterson and Gilmore’s works. The hut on the Gilmore side of the banknote references life in the Australian bushland as described in her poetry. While on the Paterson side of the banknote, a designer’s interpretation of a horseman is depicted from the era of Paterson’s writing.
Currently, the new $20 denomination hasn’t been fully released to the public, so it does not depict any native bird or various wattle species.
However, the two individuals featured on the banknote are; Mary Reibey and Reverend John Flynn.
Mary Reibey (1777-1855) arrived in Australia as a convict in 1792 to the New South Wales colony. She is best remembered as a tenacious achiever due to becoming a successful shipping magnate and philanthropist. Developing and earning a reputation as a perceptive and successful businesswoman after taking over her husband’s enterprises, following his death in 1811. In later life, she became known for her charitable work and interest in the church and education.
Reverend John Flynn (1880-1951) founded the first aerial medical service in the world. Known to us as the Royal Flying Doctor Service. After helping to establish the Presbyterian Church’s Australian Inland Mission, Flynn could see a dire need for inland Australians to have access to medical services, so after many setbacks, he achieved the feat of establishing the aerial medical service, as well as its associated radio communications.
On the Reibey side of the banknote, depicts images of the schooner Mercury ship and a building in George Street, Sydney, both owned by Reibey. While on the Flynn side, it depicts the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s maiden voyage that occurred with the DeHavilland 50 aircraft Victory.
The Australian $50 banknote displays Indigenous inventor and writer, David Unaipon, and Australia’s first female parliamentarian, Edith Cowan.
David Unaipon (1872–1967) was an inventor, writer and public speaker, hailed for his contributions to science. The Ngarrindjeri man only had a basic education; however, he was able to research and invent a number of groundbreaking innovations, including a much-improved sheep-shearing tool, which is also depicted on the note with him. Unaipon was also Australia’s first published Indigenous writer, with works including newspaper and magazine articles, as well as a 1929 booklet publication, called Native Legends. He was also a strong supporter and campaigner for improvements to Indigenous living conditions.
Edith Cowan (1861–1932) was a social worker and feminist who went on to become Australia’s first female politician. Her contribution was crucial towards the founding of the Women’s Service Guild and the Children’s Protection Society. The later organisation helped establish the Children’s Court, and Edith was one of the first women appointed to the bench. In 1921, Cowan was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia.
This banknote does feature a native bird, the Black Swan (Cygnus Atratus) and a native species of wattle, the Acacia Humifusa.
On the David side of the banknote depicts shields from his Ngarrindjeri tribe and images portraying the practices of miwi and navel cord exhange about which David wrote. On the Cowan side, it depicts pictures of the gumnut brooch that Edith Cowan made to symbolise that entry into Parliament was a “tough nut to crack” for women, and the King Edward Memorial Hospital, a women’s and maternity hospital that she helped establish.
Like the $20 note, as of current, does not have a new design, so there aren’t any native birds or species of wattle to depict.
The two individuals depicted are Dame Nellie Melba and General Sir John Monash.
Dame Nellie Melba (1861–1931) was known for her amazing soprano voice – which had an even quality over its three-octave range – and her charitable character. Her voice shot this Aussie to international fame after her 1887 Brussels debut in Verdi’s Rigoletto, but her most famous role was that of Mimi in Puccini’s La Bohème. Despite the gruelling schedule her stardom caused, Melba never forgot her roots and participated in a number of charitable causes in Australia.
General Sir John Monash, (1865–1931) was one of the greatest military commanders in Australia, as well as an engineer and administrator. Monash served in Gallipoli and on the Western Front during WWI and his outstanding victory at Hamel inspired a succession of further victories, which eventually led to the breaking of the Hindenburg Line. During the 1920s, Monash continued to advise on military and engineering matters, was a representative for returned soldiers and held a number of important civilian positions, such as being the head of Victoria’s State Electricity Commission. Monash played a huge role in the construction of Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, and mentored William McCormack a key engineer on the Great Ocean Road.
On the Dame Nellie Melba side of the banknote it depicts her 1902 homecoming concert in Australia and New Zealand. While on the General Sir John Monash side of the banknote, it depicts Australian WWI victories.