Next time you have a twenty dollar note in your hands, take a close look at who is honoured on it.

You will note that Mary Reibey is on one side and John Flynn is on the other.

Flynn (about whom I wrote the book ‘The Man on the Twenty Dollar Notes’) is a legend as founder of the Flying Doctor and School of the Air. Mary Reibey is known by few, but richly deserves her honoured place in our national history as her achievements in our colonial era were quite extraordinary.

Eminent historical novelist, Grantlee Kieza, has written a well researched book to greatly upgrade her profile.

He is a valued friend of mine and we meet often for breakfast to chat about the books we are writing. Grantlee is far more productive than me, writing two, sometimes three, books every year, whereas I write one. He has written best selling books on such Australian legends as Hudson Fysh, Banjo Patterson, John Monash, Bert Hinkler, Henry Lawson and others. Talking with him is a huge learning experience for me and I am enormously grateful for it.

The front cover of his book below invites us to enjoy the fascinating story of THE REMARKABLE MRS REIBY. Grantlee has done all of us a huge favour by writing it so superbly. Make sure you buy his book soon.

Mary Reibey (her name then was Molly Haydock), a teenager living in poor circumstances in the English town of Stafford, stole a horse, tried to sell it, was caught & sentenced to death. In the shadow of the gallows, the lawmakers decided to give her another chance and ordered that she be transported to Australia for a term of 7 years, which she would eventually voluntarily extend to 70.

After months on a filthy boat and facing appalling conditions on arrival in Sydney, she settled down to the task of rehabilitating her life. She soon won a pardon and built a future. She fell in love with a decent man, married him, had 7 children, but unfortunately he died. She embarked on an amazing business career as a working mum that led her to become a real estate mogul, a shipping magnate and a philanthropist. Her achievements were an incredible feat.

Indeed, she became the wealthiest woman in colonial Australia and the acknowledged leader of a male dominated business community. From those positions of power, she often funded new public services that the colonial administration had ignored.

Her finest achievements were that she was the founding shareholder of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac) both of which have lasted for two centuries.

In all her endeavours, she faced the usual hurdles that have deterred many women in their rightful quest for gender equality. She was persistent, respectful and able and won acceptance strictly on merit. She was recognised as the ‘go to’ person if you wanted to achieve anything of significance in the colony and beyond. Smart male investors would say to friends, ‘If you want to make money, invest in whatever Mrs Reibey is doing’. (My Sydney readers will be interested to know that she owned Macquarie Place and lots of land surrounding it.)

She died in 1855 at age 78. New South Wales had lost its greatest pioneer. She left an inspirational pathway for others to follow, showing how constant setbacks can be overcome on a pathway to greatness.

There have been many women of courage and ability who have contributed mightily to the creation and development of Australia as a nation and as a society, but there are not many whose record is of greater quality and permanence than that of Mary Reibey.

However, we can be sure that the future will bring forward a new style of female leadership to the ever changing life of Australia and will ensure that gender equality is permanently embedded as a cornerstone of the nation.

I had an experience a week ago that pointedly displayed that future.

I visited the Linville School in the Brisbane River Valley where I first enrolled as a student 86 years ago. The School had 20 students then. Now it has 23. They gave me a wonderful welcome and invited me to spend 30 minutes talking to the students about my experiences of life and answering their questions. I was greatly heartened by their positive attitudes.

My closing comment was,

‘I hope that one of you will one day become Prime Minister of Australia. In saying this, may I predict that it will probably be one of the girls.’

The female students rose as one, clapping and cheering mightily. The guys sat in respectful silence, clapping politely.

My wife Helen was with me and I whispered to her,

‘We are looking at the future’

Proud to be known as the ‘Boy from Linville’.