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A History Revival

The new banknotes' gallery of portraits exhibited more varied subjects and more sophisticated renderings than previous series. Andrews brought vitality to the series' portraits through decisive line treatment and contrast between the use of black and the luminous facial tones and white collars, cravats and ribbons worn by various identities. He portrayed the majority of the figures from a three-quarters view that balanced the formality of the profile with insight into the personal characteristics of the face.

The new series presented a broader range of enterprises than previous banknotes, which had focussed on economic development and select colonial identities. The new banknotes reflected an emerging sense of Australia's diversity and increased awareness of the history of women, the country's environment, its arts and international contributions such as aeronautics.

Key to plants shown on the $5 banknote, 1967.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, P13/1044.

The excursions into Australian flora made by the 1950s banknotes appear restrained in comparison with the assemblage of species featured on the $5 banknote with the botanist, Joseph Banks. Unlike the decorative examples of the earlier series, Andrews' treatment suggests appreciation of both the individual species, including Banks' namesake of the banksia family, and their place within the environment. In fact, the $5 banknote's selection of flora became an actual garden within the Bank's new note printing facility, established at Craigieburn, Victoria, in 1981.

Caroline Chisholm's portrait on the $5 banknote represented the first occasion that an identified woman other than the monarch appeared on Australian currency. The background of the women and children, sailing ships and Sydney's foreshore narrates her involvement in assisting young migrant women with employment and facilitating emigration by establishing the Family Colonization Loan Society.1

The arts are acknowledged for the first time on an issued Australian currency with the $10 banknote. A montage of architectural details by the convict architect, Francis Greenway, accentuates their harmonious Georgian traits. On the reverse side, the profile of writer Henry Lawson is joined by a palimpsest of his manuscripts and scenes of his childhood years, mainly from the gold town of Gulgong, New South Wales. In contrast with the decorum of Georgian architecture, the patchwork of vernacular buildings evokes the settings of Lawson's outback stories and his use of the Australian idiom.

Gordon Andrews checks a transparency of the layout for the Henry Lawson side of the $10 banknote, 1965.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, PN-006808.

Gordon Andrews, preliminary drawing of the number 10 for the $10 banknote, black felt-tipped pen on tracing paper.

© Estate of Gordon Andrews. Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences.

The choice of subject for the $20 banknote reflected not only the past but also the current and future significance of aviation. Lawrence Hargrave's experiments in flight had been validated by Charles Kingsford Smith's epic journeys demonstrating aviation's potential. On the banknote, Lawrence's kites and flying devices are partnered with confident representations of flight in harmonographic studies that evoke futuristic qualities.

Although Gordon Andrews sought to avoid the traps of fashion that could limit the banknotes' enduring appeal, he brought his contemporary sense of design to the currency's requirements. His stylised depictions of historical identities and their attributes chimed with 1960s popular culture, especially its posters and covers of albums that portrayed individual musicians and bands against kaleidoscopic collages and psychedelic effects. The apparent spontaneity of his draughtsmanship also disguised a means of protecting the banknotes against replication. Its alternating widths meant that if the counterfeiter's camera was exposed for the thick lines, the fine lines disappeared; if exposed for the thin ones, the thick lines flared and closed over the thin.

Preliminary design of background lines for $20 banknote.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, NP-002048.

Gordon Andrews, colour samples for the $20 banknote: rainbow golden yellow, rainbow rich gold, brown, bright red ink on card.

© Estate of Gordon Andrews. Museum Applied Arts & Sciences.


1. The banknote's scene of Sydney's Rocks area originally included the name ‘G. Andrews Plumber’ on a shop's shingle. Unable to sign the banknotes, the designer planted a furtive quip on his role in the currency's circulation.

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