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A fair go

07 March 2011

Can you answer this 'who-wants-to-be-a-millionaire' style question?

Which is the only currency in the world to feature a convicted criminal on a bank note?

A) Australia
B) America
C) Afghanistan
D) The United Kingdom

Lock in A) Australia, Eddie, because our $20 note features the colonial business woman Mary Reibey, pronounced \"Raybee\", transported here in 1792 for 7 years for stealing a horse.

From my reading of her as her respectability and position in society grew, Mary did her best to play the dark horse on her colonial beginnings, shrouding them in mystery. And it's only through the careful research of biographer Nance Irvine that the truth was firmly established in her book \"Mary Reibey: Molly Incognito\".

New Scholarship

But why am I interested in all this? Because Westpac is launching, in partnership with the Australian Graduate School of Management's Executive Programs, two annual scholarships named after Mary (worth more than $11,500 each) to further women's expertise in core business disciplines.

Mary was a pretty amazing woman. Imagine you're an orphan, then at 15 years of age you're transported to colonial Australia for having stolen a horse as a youthful prank, and then you're put into service as a nursemaid in a major's household. Not the most auspicious of beginnings for a woman who, after marrying a free settler had 7 children, 5 of whom she outlived, helped and then ran the international trading company owned by her husband, Thomas (whose premature death left her in charge of a major trading company), was the landlord of the building in which Westpac, formerly The Bank of New South Wales, first opened in 1817, and was appointed governor of the Free Grammar School in 1825 (now Sydney Grammar School).

What must it have been like? Struggling in the colonies, running a company as a woman - and an ex-convict - that was international, profitable and flourished. As women now, we speak about things in terms of how hard it is and how hard done-by we can feel. But the obstacles Mary encountered and attacked head on must have seemed insurmountable. And then, eventually, to find herself in the inner sanctum of the colony and its business rulers, it makes you stop and think.

And I did.

Formulating the idea

So, when at our recent CEW leadership lunches, Rosemary Howard from AGSM approached me with the idea for some sort of course to further potential women leaders, I came up with the idea of an annual scholarship on which we can build an alumni of women business leaders. And then I decided to make it two, the second specifically for women in regional areas in business.

The scholarships provide the winners with a spot in the five-and-a-half day residential General Manager Program conducted by AGSM Executive Programs at the University of New South Wales Residential Campus, Kensington, Sydney. (Any airfares required to attend will be covered by the scholarship.) Following on from the course, the winners will be featured on The Ruby Connection, invited to major Westpac business customer events and to join the AGSM Executive Alliance. To be in it we need 500 words or less on how your business or career would benefit from attending the course. The website ( gives you all the details.

Who knows, one of our winners could end up on a bank note in years to come.

Country commitment

This year, we're also continuing our commitment to women in the rural sector with our sponsorship of the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation (RIRDC) rural women's awards, offered to us by the Federal Government.

Again, I could see the value in getting behind creating women leaders in all walks of life and in being part of forging sustainable rural communities and networks.

Each state winner receives a $10,000 bursary for which they submit a detailed description (including a budget) on how they would use the money to benefit their business and the rural community.

These women really battle with problems we do not face in the cities: isolation, lack of services, weather, nature, differing business and financial stressors, under-representation. In 2009 when we first became involved I was blown away by their resilience, their fight and resourcefulness.

According to recent studies, even though women contribute more than 49 per cent of the total value of agricultural output they continue to be left out of management and decision-making in primary industries. In the end that sort of imbalance will affect us domestically and globally.

We are going to feature each of the state RIRDC winners on Ruby in the coming months as well as the overall winner, Sue Middleton from Western Australia, as our Ruby of the Month this month (June). They've all got fantastic stories to tell, and their up-front, tell-it-like-it-is natures make for fascinating reading.