Reserve Bank of Australia

A New Era – Polymer Currency Notes: 1988 Onwards

Centenary of Federation

In celebration of the Centenary of Australia's Federation, the RBA issued a commemorative $5 note in January 2001.

Preparations for this new note began in mid 1997. A committee was established to assist in deciding matters such as the denomination to be issued and who should be represented on the note. This committee comprised a cross-section of representatives from the Australian community.

Mr Garry Emery was selected to design the note following a competition amongst Australia's leading designers.

Image showing the front of an early design of the commemorative $5 note Image showing the back of an early design of the commemorative $5 note

There were a number of early designs and colour schemes for this commemorative note.

Image showing a portrait of Sir Henry Parkes on the front of the Federation $5 note Image showing a portrait of Catherine Helen Spence on the back of the Federation $5 note

The front of the note that was issued in 2001 carried the portrait of Sir Henry Parkes (1815–1896) and other Federation design elements. Parkes had been a candidate to feature on 10 shilling and £50 notes designed in the early 1950s. The 10 shilling note issued in 1953/54, however, carried a portrait of Matthew Flinders while the £50 note was never issued.

Parkes was once described by the British press as 'the most commanding figure in Australian politics' and became known as the 'Father of Federation'. This was in recognition of his efforts in the last decade of his life to advance the cause of nationhood. His now famous speech in the Tenterfield School of Arts in 1889 – the Tenterfield Address – was a clarion call for Federation which became a reality a few years after his death.

Image showing Catherine Helen Spence

Catherine Helen Spence (1825–1910) was a journalist, social reformer and novelist. Viewed as the leading woman in South Australian public affairs at the turn of the century, Spence was in the vanguard of efforts to enhance women's rights, child welfare and electoral reform. She became one of Australia's first female preachers. Spence was our first female political candidate, contesting unsuccessfully the election for delegates to the 1897 Australasian Federal Convention.

The Federation Star appears on the Australian flag and Coat of Arms, and is symbolised on our polymer currency notes.

It has seven points. Six represent the states which formed the Australian Federation in 1901 with the seventh point, added in 1909, representing the combined territories of the Commonwealth.