Banknotes are an important way of representing a nation's history and identity. They invite us to recall the past and to imagine the future. For that reason, artists have been drawn to them as a way to contemplate alternative histories and national narratives and to challenge existing ones. Dr Ryan Presley (b. 1987) is an Aboriginal Australian artist who lives in Brisbane. His father's family is Marri Ngarr and originate from the Moyle River region in the Northern Territory. His mother's family were Scandinavian immigrants to Australia.
For around a decade, Presley has been developing a body of work called Blood Money. Through Blood Money, Presley has created an alternative banknote series that re-imagines Australia's currency as a celebration of Aboriginal history. By replacing the existing banknote portraits with those of significant Aboriginal Australians, Presley aims to restore their voices in Australian history. Presley's work aims to challenge the myth of Aboriginal passivity in the colonial period and to recall acts of resistance to dispossession. As an assertion of Indigenous Australian sovereignty, Presley has replaced the name ‘Australia’ with the name of the cultural group of the person depicted on the banknote.
Vincent Lingiari AM (1919-1988) – the Gurindji man who led the Wave Hill walk off in 1966 is shown on this banknote. Lingiari worked with many other Gurindji people on the Wave Hill Cattle Station, which was established on their country in 1883. The Gurindji workers were poorly treated by the Vestey Brothers group, which managed the station. Lingiari received no cash payment for his work, notwithstanding his position as head stockman. On 23 August 1966, Lingiari led a walk off of two hundred Aboriginal workers at the Wave Hill station. The walk off marked the beginning of a nine year strike in protest of the poor working conditions and the dispossession suffered by the Gurindji. The Gurindji’s protest gathered public attention. The political pressure generated by the protest resulted in the return of their lands at a ceremony at Wattie Creek on August 16, 1975. The return of Gurindji lands is regarded as one of the defining moments in the Aboriginal land rights movement. A photograph captured by Mervyn Bishop of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pouring earth into Lingiari’s hands has since become one of the most iconic photographs in Australian history.
Selected quotations of Vincent Lingiari have been incorporated into the background of the note as well as the striking Aboriginal workers involved in the Wave Hill walk off. Text from their petition is shown in the background of the banknote.
Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920-1993), the poet, activist, environmentalist and educator is shown on the opposite side. Noonuccal is remembered for being the first published Aboriginal poet, as well as for her forceful lobbying for the rights of Aboriginal people through legislative reform and the improvement of their living conditions. Noonuccal established the Noonuccal-Nughie Education and Cultural Centre on North Stradbroke Island in 1972 to teach Aboriginal culture to children, on country. Noonuccal received many prestigious awards in recognition of her literary work. She was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1970, but returned the award in 1987 as a protest to the upcoming Australian Bicentennial celebrations and the continued disadvantage and discrimination endured by Aboriginal people.
Noonuccal's name is derived from that given to the paperbark tree, which is shown on the banknote. Noonuccal was a friend and correspondent of Dame Mary Gilmore, who appears on the official $10 banknote. Upon reading a selection of Noonuccal’s poetry, Gilmore told her that ‘these belong to the world.’
Jandamarra (1873-1897) was a Bunuba man from the Kimberley region. Jandamarra spent his early years working on Lennard River Station, where he gained a reputation as a skilled horseman and marksman. Jandamarra was later assigned to Constable Bill Richardson to work as a tracker. On one occasion, Jandamarra was charged with tracking a group of Aboriginal resistance fighters by Richardson. Once the fighters were apprehended, Jandamarra shot and killed Richardson as he slept, then freed the fighters from custody. Alarmed by reports of the police murder of Aboriginal people at Fitzroy Crossing and the occupation of Bunuba land by settlers, Jandamarra set about organising an armed defence of his country. He sought to create an Indigenous resistance movement that would transcend traditional tribal boundaries. The uprisings led by Jandamarra were harshly put down by the police. Many Aboriginal people were killed and injured in violent acts of retribution. After a three year guerrilla campaign against colonial settlement, Jandamarra himself was shot dead by police in 1897.
The dramatic scene of Jandamarra's liberation of chained Aboriginal men is depicted on the banknote. His skill as a tracker is represented by footprints in sand. The white marks around the footprints allude to Jandamarra's psychological warfare tactics against the police. He would enter their camps and housing during the night, take their firearms and supplies and cover his feet in flour, which left a ghostly white outline where he walked. This was done to taunt the police, letting them know it was him when they woke.
Woloa (1800-1831) was a Tommeginne woman from north east Tasmania. As a teenager, she was abducted and forced to live with a group of sealers. Living in slave-like conditions, she endured torture, abuse and violence at their hands for several years. During her captivity, Woloa learned to speak English and also became adept in the use of their firearms. In 1828, Woloa made a remarkable escape from the sealers, taking much of their stock of supplies and weapons with her back to her traditional country near Emu Bay. She also rallied other enslaved women to escape with her. Once returned to Emu Bay, she taught others in her community how to use firearms in their efforts to resist colonisation.
The background to the banknote shows Aboriginal warriors using firearms. Also shown are the island of Tasmania, woven patterns traditionally used by the Tommeginne people and shells, which were used by them as an item of jewellery. Other references to Woloa’s story include European ships, firearms and black swans.
Pemulwuy (1750-1802) is one of two individuals featured on Presley's $50 banknote. Pemulwuy (also known as Bembulwoyan) is perhaps the best known resistance warrior in the Sydney region. He was a member of the Bidjigal clan, whose lands encompassed the country between Botany Bay to Toongabbie. He led a formidable guerrilla war for twelve years against the colony in the Botany Bay area, the Hawkesbury River, Georges River, Parramatta and Liverpool. He brought together Aboriginal people of several clans in a united resistance campaign. His raids were so effective that in 1801, Governor Philip Gidley King offered a bounty for the capture of Pemulwuy dead or alive. Armed with spears, rocks and boomerangs, Pemulwuy defeated many attempts by British soldiers to capture him. Pemulwuy was shot on numerous occasions, but fought on regardless. He also escaped custody from the British on one occasion while wearing leg irons. His imperviousness to the settlers’ weapons contributed to the belief that he was a ‘carradhy’ (also known as a ‘clever man’ or healer). A distinctive blemish in Pemulwuy’s left eye was also taken as an indication that he was a carradhy. He was finally shot and killed on 2 June 1802.
Presley has depicted Pemulwuy with his distinctive eye against a background of spears, firesticks and weapons. To his left, a scene of Aboriginal warriors attacking a settler property with fire is shown. To his right is a map of the Sydney and Hawkesbury region – the country that Pemulwuy fought to defend.
Fanny Balbuk (1840-1907) was a Noongar elder remembered for her defiance of the impacts of settlement and urban expansion on her traditional lands. A number of public buildings and private dwellings were constructed over songlines and sites sacred to the Noongar people. Balbuk walked a straight track between the camping grounds on which she was born and Lake Kingsford, where an abundance of bush foods could be found. Balbuk walked the track regardless of what obstacles arose in her path as the colony of Perth developed. When a house was built in her way, she kicked down the fence palings surrounding it and walked directly through the building. Balbuk worked with anthropologist Daisy Bates to record and transfer cultural knowledge and to maintain her people's traditional law.
Behind Presley's portrait of Balbuk, she is shown again breaking down fence palings – an act of symbolic defiance of dispossession and the occupation of Aboriginal land. Balbuk was often seen carrying a digging stick, and this has been incorporated into the design of the note. Some of the native food sources Balbuk sought at Lake Kingsford – gilgie crayfish and long-neck turtle – are also shown. An Aboriginal family is also shown in front of a city skyline to represent disruption to community life caused by colonisation.
Dundalli (c.1820-1855) was a Dalla-Djindari man who led the resistance to colonisation by the Aboriginal people living in the area surrounding Brisbane. Dundalli led early diplomatic attempts to negotiate with European settlers and contain their expansion throughout his country. Dundalli's deputations led to some cooperation and position discussions with the settlers. Relations deteriorated after food given to the Aboriginal people was deliberately poisoned by settlers. Thereafter, Dundalli led more aggressive attacks against settlers in an effort to resist colonisation and dispossession. Dundalli was famed for his size and strength, which made him a formidable and effective warrior.
Presley's banknote depicts the burning of Kilcoy Station – an act of retaliation by Dundalli in response to a massacre of Dalla people. The note's background is replete with references to Dundalli's country, such as the Wonga pidgeon from which Dundalli's name in the Dalla language is derived. Bunya nuts and trees commonly found in Dundalli's country are also shown.
Gladys Tybingoompa (1946-2006) was a Wik elder best remembered as a driving force behind the land rights claim for the Wik peoples. She was one of the five plaintiffs in the Wik vs Queensland native title case put to the High Court of Australia. A judgment was handed down in their favour in 1996. The case is now regarded as a defining moment in the history of Indigenous land rights in Australia. Tybingoompa danced outside the High Court in celebration and told waiting journalists ‘I'm a proud woman of Cape York today. It is for me, here today, a historic moment as a Wik woman. I am not afraid of anything.’ Her involvement in the land rights movement began in 1978 when she joined a successful push by members of the Aurukun community in opposing the Queensland Government's seizure of their lands in order to open the area to mining activities. Tybingoompa was also a teacher and activist for improved educational opportunities for Indigenous children. After signing her name, she would often add ‘Strong Wik Woman’.
The famous scene of Tybingoompa dancing in front of the High Court of Australia is shown on the left side of the banknote. Behind her, the extent of the successful Wik land claim in Cape York is shown. Bird and fish species that are native to the area are also depicted.
Images reproduced with the kind permission of the artist, Dr Ryan Presley. These artworks were derived from the Blood Money Currency Exchange Terminal originally commissioned by the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane in 2018.
This body of work was originally commissioned by the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane in 2018. It was exhibited in the solo exhibition Prosperity at the IMA in 2018 and in Primavera at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 2019. As part of the 2019 Sydney Festival, Presley installed a ‘Blood Money Currency Exchange Terminal’ in the foyer of the Museum of Contemporary Art. In exchange for Australian currency, visitors could acquire Presley's alternative currency. The Blood Money was assigned a higher value than Australian dollars – $15 AUD could buy 10 Blood Money dollars, for instance. Presley used this differential to represent the cost to Indigenous Australians of colonialism in terms of the extraction of assets and resources. The money collected was donated to charities working with young Aboriginal people in Sydney and Alice Springs.
Presley worked with the Reserve Bank's archives and museum in developing this body of work. He also consulted the Bank to ensure his work aligned with its anti-counterfeiting security guidelines.
A complete series of Presley's Blood Money from the 2019 Blood Money Exchange Terminal is held by the Reserve Bank archives. It was displayed in the Reserve Bank of Australia Museum in conjunction with NAIDOC Week 2019, for which the theme was ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth’.