It was 2006, Grade 12 English and the latest assignment was a 10-minute speech on something that was ‘quintessentially Australian’. I remember being told that there was no right or wrong answer, but we had to show cause and enlighten the audience as to who or what made Australia iconic. There were about thirty of us in the class and only a few that I still remember, so I guess they got something right.
For example, one of my classmates gave a 10-minute history lesson on the Melbourne Cup and how the ‘race that stops the nation’ is the single greatest horse race in the world. All Australians come to a complete standstill on the first Tuesday in November at 3 pm. The entire nation watches the 3-minute race, why? Because we love an underdog. Phar Lap, Makybe Diva, can it get any more iconic than that?
Now I must admit, I felt pretty clever at the time and I thought my topic was unique, but still represented Australia. I don’t remember much of the speech, but it went a little like this… Remember, I was 17 at the time so don’t judge too harshly!
What is it to be Australian? Is it a lifestyle, a destination, a feeling or a thing? Something that is so ingrained in our daily life, that we overlook it, and don’t even give it a second thought. Our history is what makes us who we are and we often forget that our currency tells a story. The $50 note depicts Edith Cowan, Australian first female parliamentarian. AB “Banjo” Paterson is a feature on the $10 note, arguably Australia’s most famous poet. The Man from Snowy River appears in small text in the top left-hand corner. The $20 note, or Redback as it is affectionately known, has a portrait of Reverend John Flynn. He pioneered the world’s first aerial medical service, now known as the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Illustrated on our coins are native Australian animals, such as the echidna, lyrebird and platypus. Our national emblem, which includes the Australian Coat of Arms, Australian floral emblem (The Wattle) and native kangaroo and emu are depicted on the 50-cent coin. The $2 coin features a traditional Aboriginal tribal elder, the Southern Cross and Australian flora.
I did manage to prattle on for 10 minutes about our bank notes and the different icon Australians depicted on each one. I still stand by my initial argument, that our history makes us who we are. I wonder as we move into a digital age, how do we keep our history alive? We are moving away from physical money and into an era where you can pay for groceries on your watch. Do we have a sentimental attachment to currency, because it is part of our national history and culture? With so many different currencies all over the world, wouldn’t it be easier to be completely paperless? But then, what daily reminder will we have of where we come from and who shaped this great nation?