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The Reinvention of Identity

The technical innovation of the new series was accompanied by a fresh approach to the selection of the identities for the banknotes, based on criteria developed by the Bank. An advisory panel was established with the historian Geoffrey Blainey; architect Phillip Cox; artist Janet Dawson; and the designer of the first decimal currency series, Gordon Andrews. The design of the new banknotes sought to expand the diversity established by the first decimal series, with increased emphasis on archival research and consultation for the selection of themes and individuals.

With the exception of the reigning monarch, all figures on the banknotes were to be of people deceased; however, they were to describe achievements from more recent times than previous series, with the suggested timespan being between 1870 and 1970. A reasonable distribution of different Australian states was recommended together with the celebration of Aboriginal culture.

Other than the monarch, only one woman – Caroline Chisholm – appeared on the first series of decimal currency banknotes. For the new series, there would be equal representation of women and men. Owing to a concern that there may be a preponderance of women associated with the arts, consideration was given to women from diverse disciplines. A preliminary selection of women reflects this diversity. As well as the artist Margaret Preston, and writers Miles Franklin and Christina Stead, the initial selection included the social reformer and suffragette Vida Goldstein, and the champion swimmer Sarah Durack. The influential landscape designer, Edna Walling, appeared on the list of possibilities, together with the noted botanist and conservationist, Thistle Harris.

The Bank conferred with the board of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission for advice on the representation of its culture. The Commission's suggestions of identities for the banknote comprised Sir Douglas Nicholls, former Governor of South Australia; the singer Harold Blair; the artist Albert Namatjira; and David Unaipon, writer, inventor and advocate for his people, who became the chosen candidate.

Like the first decimal series, the final choice of identities saw a degree of compatibility between the sides of the banknotes. The poet Dame Mary Gilmore was coupled with fellow writer, Banjo Paterson on the $10 banknote, and the entrepreneurial minister, the Reverend John Flynn, joined pioneering businesswoman, Mary Reibey, on the $20 banknote. The $50 banknote partnered two innovators in social reform: David Unaipon and the politician Edith Cowan. The celebrated soprano Dame Nellie Melba and military commander Sir John Monash, appeared together on the $100 banknote.

Unlike Gordon Andrews and Harry Williamson, who were based in Sydney, the designers for the new series worked from Melbourne. The prominent graphic designers Max Robinson, Garry Emery and Brian Sadgrove designed concepts for the $10, $20 and $50 banknotes respectively; they joined Note Printing Australia's designer, Bruce Stewart, who produced the designs of the $5 and $100 banknotes. The designers imparted distinctive characteristics to their individual banknotes and also ensured that there was stylistic coherence within the series. They shared the common objective of creating concise, visual narratives that portrayed the identities' careers.

Since the replacement of the $1 banknote with a coin in 1984, the portrait of the reigning monarch had not appeared on a banknote. In 1992, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II reappeared on Australia's banknotes, moving to the $5 banknote, being the lowest denomination of the new series. Her portrait is based on John Lawrence's photograph. The informality of his image is accentuated in Bruce Stewart's design of a gum tree branch (Eucalyptus haemastoma), whose naturalness contrasts with the stylised depictions of flora on previous banknotes. Views of Old and New Parliament Houses in Canberra connect the monarch's ongoing role in Australia with its inheritance of constitutional monarchy and Westminster parliamentary democracy.

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