Caroline Chisholm was the first woman, other than the Queen, to appear on Australian currency. Although not technically a healthcare worker, we have chosen to reflect on Caroline Chisolm’s life and achievements, which were, ultimately, to serve the community and help others.
Caroline Chisolm arrived in Australia in 1838, at the age of 30. Here she found emigrants from Britain that were homeless and begging on the streets. Others ignored them, but Caroline vowed to make a difference which earned her the nickname ‘the emigrants friend’.
Even as young girl, Caroline had an interest in helping people. Her parents set a great example by opening their home with welcome arms to almost anyone, regardless of their class. At 22 years of age she married a man named Archibald Chisholm, an officer in the British Army. Later they decided to start a new life in Australia. When they sailed into the Sydney waters it was still very much a convict town.
Over the next 10 years the daughter of a wealthy English landowner became a thorn in the side of the establishment – writing letters, hounding bureaucrats and pestering the Governor to make conditions better for those arriving in the colony. She found lodgings and jobs for more than 10,000 women and girls. As a salute to her achievements her portrait was chosen for our original $5 note – the first woman other than the Queen to appear on Australian currency.
While her husband worked Caroline wouldn’t stay at home, she went for walks around the town and she was shocked at what she discovered. Women were living on the streets, having sailed to Australia in search of a better life, when they arrived there were no jobs for them and no places for them to live.
Caroline reached out to the Governor at the time, Mr Gipps. She asked for a building, she wanted to find these women shelter and jobs. She was willing to work hard and give her time freely as long as the end result was a home for them. It took a few meetings but finally the Governor gave in and gave her the Immigration Barracks.
“She was quite forceful but in a very pleasant and feminine way. I also think she was intensely practical so when she came to talk to a bureaucrat or Government official, they were always amazed first of all how practical she was and secondly as to what she’d already done before she got in their door. So that it was very hard for them to deny.” (Don Chisholm, Caroline’s great great grandson)
While juggling her home life (9 children in all) but with the support of her husband Caroline began working on the home that began as a building that was filthy and full of rats.
The Female Immigrants’ Home was a great success and within two years Caroline had found jobs and homes for at least a thousand women.
Caroline had managed to move most of the women off the streets, but she knew that future migrants would also need help.
She convinced the authorities that something had to be done about the awful conditions on ships that were being used to bring people to Australia. She also set up an employment office, introducing work contracts; agreements about working conditions and pay. While accepting no money for her work Caroline found jobs and homes for around 11,000 migrants, most of which were young women.
Australian history recognises Caroline Chisholm as one of the country’s most outstanding women. Her portrait was on the five dollar note for more than twenty years.
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