I once heard a person, in reference to the note at right, that you could tell a great deal about a country by who they chose to put on their notes. He felt it spoke well of Japan that Fukuzawa Yukichi, a thinker and philosopher, was chosen for their currency. I don’t really buy this idea, but it does flatter Australia.
I realised this week I couldn’t name every (real) person on Australian currency, and sought to rectify that. What professions we have sought to put on dollars old and new? Asides from the sovereign, we have represented:
Pastorialists, scientists/inventors (5!), humanitarians, architects, poets (3!), aviators, doctors, businesswomen and opera singers.
Of politicians, who dominate US bills, we have but one on regular notes; and that is a tribute to making democracy represent everyone. Of professional specialists in violence, who are those that states tend to honour the most, we have but one, and that one is renowned as much for the way the troops were fed as for their victories.
There’s also an appealing modesty about what a nation should be proud of. Below is an image I once saw in the NSW State Library, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Great White Fleet visiting Australia. The three figures are Brittania, Columbia and Australia – an Anglophonic trinity. Brittania holds a trident; a symbol of mastery of the sea, and of military power. Columbia holds the torch of liberty; a symbol of ideals, and the power of ideas. Australia however holds a shepherd’s crook. What pride she has, and what power she has, is rooted in the peaceful and the practical and, with hope, she will master both.
I’ve not named any of the women and men on our currency, in hope that at least one person will be led into reading about them. The great thing about exploring knowledge like this is that it can even lead you to learn things, like how our long lost cousins (remnants of a failed utopian dream of a New Australia) live even now in Paraguay (Youtube is engineered to select the few titilating frames in a video).