The Story Behind The Aussie $50 Note

Here is a picture of the Australian $50 note. What do you see?

The man is David Unaipon, and Aboriginal pastor, inventor, writer and Christian statesman. There is a little bush church on the left of his image. Here is his story:


David was born in 1872 on the Murray River outside Adelaide. He was highly intelligent and well brought up. David left school at 13 to work as a servant for C.B. Young in Adelaide where Young actively encouraged David’s interest in literature, philosophy, science and music. Unable to get further work in the city because of his race, he returned to the bush and, with an intense spirituality, he spent most of his life preaching the gospel. his understanding of the link between Christianity and Aboriginal spirituality was very advanced.


But on the side he was a very busy inventor. David took out provisional patents for 19 inventions but was unable to afford to get any of his inventions fully patented. His most successful invention, a shearing machine which is the basis of modern mechanical shears, was introduced without David receiving any financial return and, apart from a 1910 newspaper report acknowledging him as the inventor, he received no credit. Other inventions included a centrifugal motor, a multi-radial wheel and a mechanical propulsion device. He was known as the Australian Leonardo da Vinci for his mechanical ideas, which included pre World War One drawings for a helicopter design based on the principle of the boomerang. He also did research into the polarisation of light and he was also a recognised authority on ballistics.

Writer and Activist

David was the first Aboriginal writer to publish in English. He was the author of numerous articles in newspapers and magazines, including Sydney newspapers, retelling traditional stories and arguing for the rights of Aborigines. Some of David’s traditional Aboriginal stories were published in a 1930 book, “Myths and Legends of the Australian Aboriginals”. Unfortunately, he had to publish it under the name of  a white anthropologist. They have recently been republished in their original form, under the author’s name, as “Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines”.


David was also involved in political issues surrounding Aboriginal affairs and was a keen supporter of Aboriginal self-determination, including working as a researcher  into Aboriginal Welfare. He and lobbied the Australian government to take over responsibility for Aboriginals from the states so it would be better administered.

Returning to his homelands in his old age, David died on the 7th of February 1967, two months before the passing of a national referendum recognising the Aboriginal people as Australian citizens. He was a wonderful Christian leader and truly deserving of the honour of being on our $50 note.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. (2 Timothy 4:7)

God bless




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