Reverend John Flynn

Reverend John Flynn (1880-1951), born in Moliagul, Victoria, was a Presbyterian minister who was instrumental in founding what is today known as the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

In 1911, at age 31, John was ordained into the ministry. He volunteered in rural areas and completed a survey of the Northern Territory, writing two reports on the respective needs of Indigenous and settler communities. Passionate about health, in 1912 John was appointed head of the new Australian Inland Mission, creating hospitals across rural areas.

John’s private letters reveal his plans for an aerial service long before the Australian Aerial Medical Service began with its maiden flight on 17 May 1928. The maiden plane, the Havilland aircraft Victory, is pictured alongside John on the $20 note.  Also featured is a camel, a reference to the 1913 Patrol Padres, a camel-back medics and missionary service that John financed.

John continued to improve the Aerial service by pushing and lobbying for governmental support. By 1942, he had created the Flying Doctor Service of Australia. Renamed after his death, the Royal Flying Doctor Service is now one of the world’s largest aeromedical organisations, providing 24-hour emergency care to people over 7.3 million sq km.

David Unaipon

Regarded as ‘Australia’s Leonardo da Vinci’, David Unaipon (1872-1967) was a prolific inventor, preacher, writer, Aboriginal public figure and spokesperson for Indigenous rights.

A Ngarrindjeri man, David was born and raised at the Point McLeay Mission, South Australia. Attending the mission’s school, he was its first Aboriginal convert.

An autodidact, David studied science and philosophy after school when working as a servant. He patented a sheep shearer in 1909, and his theories of flight – based on his knowledge of a boomerang’s path – were released in 1914 to much acclaim.

David was supported by the mission and highlighted as the ideal example of a converted Aboriginal Australian, granting David a platform that most Aboriginals were not afforded under the White Australia Policy.

With this, he leveraged for greater understanding and respect for Aboriginal culture. Working with the Aborigines’ Friends’ Association, David travelled Australia lecturing on Aboriginal culture while preaching and demonstrating his own inventions.

David became the first published Aboriginal in 1924, writing for the Daily Telegraph. His articles and later books were well-researched and unpaternalistic accounts of Aboriginal mythology and culture.

David advocated for better Aboriginal living conditions repeatedly as an Indigenous spokesperson, including the 1926 royal commission regarding the treatment of Aboriginals.

He continued to work into his nineties towards his two life-long passions: discovering the science behind perpetual motion and establishing a better life for Indigenous Australians. David died at age 95 on February 7 1967.

His patent for the sheep sheerer can be seen on the $50 note.

Edith Cowan

Edith Dircksey Cowan (1861-1932), Australia’s first female politician, was born on 2 August 1861 at Glengarry near Geraldton, Western Australia.

Marrying James Cowan, a police magistrate, Edith firsthand saw the effect of the law on women and became involved in social reform.  From 1891, she volunteered and helped found a variety of charities and organisations, including the Children’s Protection Society, the Women’s Service Guild, and the Red Cross.  As a result of Edith’s lobbying, a Children’s Court was established in 1907, and in 1915, she was appointed to the court bench.

Edith became the first female Member of Parliament when elected to the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia in 1921. Ironically, she won the seat against T.P. Draper, the Attorney-general, who had passed the legislation that allowed women in Parliament.

Edith was in Parliament for just one term but during this time, she promoted infant health centres, migrant welfare, and pushed for sex education in state schools. In 1923, she passed the Women’s Legal Status Act, allowing women to practice law. After her term, Edith continued to lobby and promote women’s rights before passing away at age 70 on 9 June 1932.

Dame Nellie Melba

Helen Porter Mitchell (1861-1931), better known by stage name Dame Nellie Melba, was an internationally renowned opera singer, touring worldwide with her near three-octave soprano range.

Nellie was born in Richmond, Victoria but moved to Queensland with her father following the death of her mother and youngest sister in 1881, meeting and marrying Charles Armstrong a year later. Nellie did not enjoy the marriage, which ended in divorce in 1900. Her frustrations were channelled into her singing career.

Nellie sang in Australian concerts, but her first Opera debut, in 1887, was in Brussels, Belgium, as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto. A debut in Paris followed and an acclaimed career began. Nellie was based overseas but regularly returned to Australia to perform. Her largest homecoming tour was in 1902 – the tour program is depicted on the $100 note.

Between 1904 and 1926, Nellie made almost 200 recordings. She retired in 1928 after a series of final concerts across Australia before retiring, passing away on 23 February 1931.

Sir John Monash

Sir John Monash (1865-1931) was an engineer, university vice-chancellor and an accomplished military officer during World War I.

An ambitious and gifted scholar, John studied arts, engineering and law at the University of Melbourne, graduating after ten years of study in 1892. Repeatedly retrenched from engineering work, John increasingly focused on a military career.

He rose through the military ranks, and at the outbreak of WWI, John was appointed commander of the 4th Infantry Brigade of the Australian Imperial Force, fighting in Gallipoli until 1915.

Monash was repeatedly promoted and awarded throughout the war, respected for his logical moves and calm-headedness. In 1916, Monash became Major-General of the 3rd Australian Division and in 1918, Lieutenant-General of the Australian Corps.

John remains renowned for his efforts in overseeing the successful Battle of Hamel in July 1918, and his post-war duties as Director-General of Repatriation and Demobilisation, where he organised education schemes for soldiers. 

After the war John returned to engineering and university, becoming chairman of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria in 1921 and vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne in 1923.

When he died on 8 October 1931, an estimated 250,000 mourners attended his state funeral. As a tribute, Monash University was named after John.


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