The New $10 Note Is A Great Excuse To Talk About Mary Gilmore, The Cool Woman Featured On It

Forget Banjo, Mary knows what's up.

Yay, new money! For reasons known only to themselves, the Reserve Bank of Australia have released a shiny new $10 note with an updated design and a holographic cockatoo (seriously).

Here’s what it looks like:

note man

It’s a similar style to the new $5 note, which recently won the award for best banknote in the Asia-Pacific region. Yep, those awards are a thing and we won.

The new note features the same two Australians as the old one: classic Aussie bush poet Banjo Patterson and writer Mary Gilmore. Patterson has a huge profile thanks to his well-known poems, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and ‘The Man from Snowy River’, but it’s the lesser known Mary Gilmore who is hands down the much cooler Australian icon.

mary note

Mary Gilmore: Australian Hero

Gilmore began her career as a school teacher. In the 1890s she became involved in radical politics and the burgeoning union movement, throwing her support behind striking maritime workers and shearers.

Her life took a wild turn in 1893 when she helped fundraise for the New Australia movement. The New Australia movement was a proposal for a utopian, socialist colony. It was founded by radicals who were upset with the idea of the creation of the reformist Australian Labor Party.

They figured it was going to be impossible to create a utopian society in Australia, so instead of getting involved in party politics they decided to set up a colony in Paraguay. Yep, this is 100 percent a real thing that happened.

The first colony was called Colonia Nueva Australia and the idea was to create a communist paradise. Sounds good in theory, but the colonists had some cooked ideas like… racial purity, and not interacting with the indigenous habitats of Paraguay.

A couple of years in, the colonists had a fight and a group of them split off to create their a separate colony called Cosme. Mary Gilmore moved to Cosme in 1896 and lived there for six years. She edited the local paper while she was there and nearly convinced her mate, Henry Lawson, to come down and hang out with her.


The colony of Cosme that Mary Hamilton moved to in 1896. Credit: Migration Heritage Centre NSW

When she moved back to Australia, Gilmore was keen to get involved in the literary and political scene, but because the patriarchy was even more fucked then, she had to go live on her parents-in-law’s farm in rural Victoria.

She eventually moved back into town, started writing for radical publications, campaigning in elections (this is before women had the right to vote in Victoria) and publishing poetry. She spent the next few years campaigning on social justice issues including women’s suffrage, a fairer welfare system and Indigenous rights.

Her writing was recognised in 1937 when she became the first person appointed as a Dame Commander of the British Empire for contributions to literature. She published huge amounts of poetry, historical writing and memoirs, and in the 1950s she became a columnist for the Communist Party’s official newspaper, probably becoming the first and only Dame of the British Empire to do so.

She died in Sydney age 97, and in addition to being featured on the $10 note she also has a federal electorate named after her.

So there you go. Mary Gilmore: writer, feminist, utopian, activist, legend. Way cooler than Banjo.