Wilkins for the $5 banknote

Kevin Enright’s letter to the Editor

NZ $5 note featuring Edmund Hilary

The spot on the front of the new $5 Australian banknote is up for grabs. This is the only change to Australian notes necessary following the death of Queen Elizabeth ll.

Imagine Sir Hubert’s face on the $5 note. It would achieve the recognition that the Foundation and others have been striving for over the years.

Kevin Enright, from Coffin Bay, kicked off this idea with a letter to the editor. We can also contribute to an uprising of popular support for Sir Hubert by spreading the word to all and sundry via chat shows and letters to the editor (metro, suburban and regional) and by directly lobbying influential people. This is not to detract from the importance of just talking about him to friends and acquaintances.

New Zealand has Sir Edmund Hillary on their $5 note.

What can be done

For those who see the value in making this pitch, sending emails to your local MPs, journalists, and genuine influencers is what would need to be done for this idea to gain real traction: for instance, people like (in alphabetic order) Lainie Anderson, Simon Birmingham, Mark Butler, Don Farrell, Peter FitzSimons, Peter Malinauskas, Christopher Pyne, Dick Smith, Penny Wong, and anyone you think might be helpful. Perhaps mention the Australian Geographic magazine, because along with Dick Smith and the Sir Hubert Wilkins Memorial Committee of the Mid-North (the local fundraising team) they restored the Wilkins family cottage at Mount Bryan East. 

Talk to friends 

Some of your friends may be natural spreaders/influencers, like Ray Kotz in Burra, a friend of Kevin Enright’s. In the two days following a call I made to him, Ray wrote four letters including one to his local MP, and one to the editor of the bible of regional areas, Outback Magazine. Ray continues to spread the message. 

There will only be one opportunity to do this – and it is right now. And it is worth doing. Why not start talking, writing and lobbying; to put your feelings about this in your own words, and send out the message as far and wide as you like.

The person who is collecting information related to this decision is the Assistant Treasurer, (his email is Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au); This $5 Banknote ‘hot topic’ is part of his portfolio. One of our supporters, Chris Gregory, has already written to him and has been acknowledged.

While a phone call to this Dr Leigh’s Office might have your support recorded, an email is the most important action that can be taken. Such a small action does not take much time, but may make a big difference, for any Australian’s interest in this issue will be passed up the line for consideration in the final decision – however that may be made. The Hon Dr Andrew Leigh MP’s phone number is 02 6247 4396.

For Your Interest

Current Australian Banknotes already feature the following faces: Edith Cowan, Dame Mary Gilmore, AB ‘Banjo’ Patterson, Reverend John Flynn, Dame Nellie Melba, Sir Douglas Mawson, Sir John Monash, David Unaipon (anglicised version of ‘Ngunaitponi’, a Ngarrindjeri man), Sir Henry Parkes, and Mary Reibey. While all are pre-eminent Australians, Sir Hubert Wilkins is not among them.

Other Australian Banknotes feature further significant Australians; however, many arenas of life still lack representation. Sir Hubert Wilkins, as the quintessential Australian action-man-polymath, spans many fields – a list as long as your arm – that ticks boxes in many more domains.

 Wilkins’s achievements were widely recognised around the world:

  • He received a Military Cross and bar, and a decade later was knighted by King George V
  • He was honoured with a ticker tape parade down New York’s Fifth Avenue. 
  • He was featured in front page headlines on three consecutive days in the New York Times
  • He was medalled by the Russians for his work in the extensive search for Sigizmund Levanevsky
  • He was made an honorary member of many international scientific bodies
  • He had his ashes scattered at the North Pole by the Americans after his wife turned down a request for his body to be interred at Westminster Abbey

 All this, yet Wilkins is still not widely recognised in Australia. 

Can we belatedly correct the record?

 A Proper Whitefella 

Another point worth making was made by Dr Stephen Carthew:

Wilkins was called ‘a proper white fella’ by the Indigenous people he worked while collecting specimens of wildlife for the British Museum the far North-East of Australia almost 100 years ago. He was interested in the culture of Aboriginal people. He was respected because he wanted to learn from his Indigenous associates. He was never demeaning or rude and did not make unreasonable demands of those who helped him, nor did he take advantage of Aboriginal women. For these reasons he is a good white representative for reconciliation, and a genuine early advocate for Indigenous people. While he was a man of his time, and did get some stories wrong, his behaviour was (from what I have researched) impeccable (Dr. Stephen Carthew).

The case for such recognition

It is not hard to make the case that Wilkins is worthy to be on our $5 note.

It has been recorded that General Sir John Monash said something like ‘Wilkins was the bravest man in my army’. Charles ‘CEW’ Bean, observed that Wilkins was the only man he knew to whom every line of Rudyard Kipling’s great poem ‘If’ applied. 

The problem is that not enough Australians even know his name. This is an opportunity to change that. 

We should not see this suggestion as a snub to King Charles and royalty – it is simply an opportunity to recognise someone who deserves greater recognition than he has previously had. King Charles III already has name recognition. What’s more, coming generations of Australian need home-grown exemplars like Captain Sir George Hubert Wilkins. 

So, let’s make the effort to have him recognised in Australia as he was around the world, by lobbying for him as the face on the new $5 note … before a decision is made that might ignore him once again.

C’mon Aussies.

Ian Drummond (Board Member of now ‘late’ Wilkins Foundation).

PS It could be helpful if you bcc me your emails at iand@approjects.com.au to collect and collate what is being done on this issue.