Pioneering family tracing links back to our $20 note
THERE aren't many of us who can claim to know just who the people portrayed on our banknotes are, and even less who can claim knowledge of their achievements.
But for Tweed Shire Councillor and former Deputy Mayor Chris Cherry, her claim to fame is of a far more personal nature, for the woman depicted on the front of the $20 banknote is Mary Reibey - Cr Cherry's great-great-great-great grandmother.
Acknowledged as one of Australia's most influential convict women, Reibey was a strong woman who became one of the most successful business leaders of her time.
"It's something to be proud of,” said Cr Cherry, whose line is descended from Eliza, Mary's fourth child and eldest daughter.
"I've always been proud of our convict history. Mary's is a fascinating story, how she was imprisoned while pretending to be a boy, it's difficult to know how that was even possible.”
Cr Cherry said she was only just learning of Mary's extraordinary life, as her own sister is researching their ancestor as a part of her doctoral studies in Canberra.
Born Molly Haydock in England in 1777, Mary lost her mother at the age of one and was orphaned at 10, when she was sent to live with her grandmother who also subsequently died.
Forced to fend for herself, Mary began work at Stratton, where she was employed until she was 14, when she left her workplace and travelled to a neighbouring town dressed as a boy for safety.
Arrested and convicted for horse-stealing - a claim Mary denied - the young teenager was thrown into prison.
According to a newspaper clipping of September 1791, the young woman claiming to be one James Burrough, was forced to "lay in the dungeon with near 50 male prisoners” for eight weeks with none of them the wiser.
Despite her uncle petitioning the government for her pardon, Mary was sent to Australia in 1792 at the age of 15, where she was believed to have been assigned as a nursemaid to the Governor Grose household.
She later married Thomas Reibey, a free settler and sailor, and the couple went on to have seven children.
Granted 30 acres on the Hawkesbury River, they began a business of sea freighting, using their own sloop to move food and supplies in the colony.
They were able to buy land parcels as other convicts or free settlers failed to make a go of the inhospitable land granted them by the Crown.
Misfortune struck, however, when Thomas was killed while returning from Tahiti, leaving Mary widowed at the age of 34, with seven children to rear.
Tragedy struck again and Thomas' business partner died only a month later, leaving Mary with the freight business as well.
She went on to become a very successful businesswoman in the colony and provided the building for the first branch of the people's bank, the bank of New South Wales, or what we now know as Westpac Bank.
Living to the ripe old age of 77 years, Mary outlived five of her children.
She was honoured with her portrait printed on the $20 note in 1992, and her portrait will be retained on the new set of banknotes being rolled out by the Reserve Bank of Australia in coming years.
That indomitable spirit appears to live on, with Cr Cherry's grandmother moving from Sydney to Wooyung in 1968 where she established the popular Wooyung Beach Holiday Park which at the time was "in the middle of nowhere”.
One of nine siblings, Cr Cherry grew up at Wooyung and went on to help manage the business.