Banknote, 1000 million Riels, Serial Number 298950, Banque Nationale du Cambodge, paper, not issued, printed by Bradbury, Wilkinson & Company, England / Cambodia, date unknown
Coins, banknotes and medals provide important insights into the issuing government's values and how it wishes to be perceived. Nationalistic in character, they are frequently admired for their artistic and technological merit. Indeed, the critical importance of security has meant that their production methods are generally cutting edge. While some coins, banknotes and medals are valued for their rarity, most are commonplace. They are a tangible reminder of changes in nation states, deposed and long-dead rulers, disputes over borders, political events and wars and provide a direct link with up to 2,500 years of world history.
Over a period of thirty years (1976-2006) the Museum received from Mr William (Bill) Dudley Bush a steady stream of rare and valuable coins and banknotes that eventually totalled thousands in number. Even prior to this Bill Bush had already donated in the mid 1960s a table whose top was filled with Australian 1937 and 38 Crown coins. That this person was a citizen of the United States living in Vancouver, Washington State made this altruistic activity all the more remarkable. Arriving mainly by mail, the large padded envelopes covered with myriad stamps, eagle-headed airmail stickers, and a distinctive scrawl, opened to reveal a vast array of material spanning the globe, and dating from antiquity through to the present.
Bill Bush was born in Skiatook, Oklahoma in 1925 and was what could only be called a colourful character. Descended from a Cherokee father who was raised on a Reservation, Bill married a number of times though his great love Peg, who predeceased him in 1987, ensured he was the beneficiary of her very prudent financial choices. Characteristically, at the same time he was receiving large sums in dividends, Bill Bush's strong work ethic saw him spend long hours working as a night watchman.
Bill Bush was a great communicator and his frequent letters are testimony to how seriously he considered his relationship with the Powerhouse Museum. Indeed, so numerous were Bill's letters that he streamlined the process through commissioning rubber stamps with the Museum's address; each individually named for the curator and director! These incredibly personal missives sent in fallow periods between (and never in) donation envelopes, allowed insights into the changing seasons and vagaries of Bill's life - including descriptions of working during cold Portland winter nights huddled incongruously in his glamorous Cadillac Eldorado coupé. To endure this, while at the same time giving away treasures, is surely the mark of an ultimately philanthropic character. As he said in his own words, 'My purpose has been to give all my life stuff to a museum for educational purposes for children to hopefully learn some history . . . and not to put a value on any of my properties (Office file F95/372/-04 letter dated 14/11/1993).'
For his extreme generosity Mr Bush was fittingly made an Honorary Associate of the Museum in the field of numismatics - an honour of which he was very proud. In 2003 he was deservedly awarded the Museum's highest honour as Life Fellow and he maintained a correspondence with the Museum until his death in November 2006.
Dr Paul Donnelly
Curator, International decorative arts and design
This banknote to the value of 1000 million Riels was not issued by the Banque Nationale du Cambodge, Cambodia.
Reference: Pick, Albert. Standard catalog of world paper money: general issues, 7th edition, volume 2, Krause Publications, Iola, Wisconsin, USA, 1994, p.190/17
Bill Bush developed an emotional attachment to Australia through his many visits here as a merchant seaman during and after WWII. During his visits to ports around the world Bill Bush collected banknotes, even managing in some ports such as Sydney to arrange with friends working in banks to set aside unusual notes that he would later exchange for face value. Eventually what became an extremely valuable collection would be donated to the Powerhouse but Bill Bush's first involvement with the Museum was in the mid 1960s when he donated a table decorated with Australian 1937 and 1938 Crown coins. This was followed in 1976 by very rare examples of Cocos Island ivory-currency. These two initial gifts unwittingly provided an insight into the eccentric character of Bill Bush, who delighted in the unusual and rare, and happily resulted in excellent choices of which New South Wales and the Museum are now the custodians.