SHE was a woman with a mission. Her name was Caroline Chisholm and she may in time become Australia's latest saint.
The person behind the name may be vaguely familiar to people today from school studies, or by recalling how famous author Charles Dickens made her a character in one of his books. And then there's her heritage-listed former barracks at East Maitland where she housed 19th century female emigrants, alone and friendless, trying to find their way in a strange new country half-way across the world.
Some older Novocastrians might, however, best remember her instead as being the first woman, apart from Queen Elizabeth, to appear on Australian paper currency. Such is fame. Her image once graced the back of the five-dollar note, but that era ended 27 years ago. That particular colourful note was in circulation from 1967 to 1994.
Or maybe some philatelist remembers when Caroline Chisholm's portrait appeared on a five-cent stamp issued by the Post Office. Five-cent stamp? Hang on, that was back in 1968, so maybe we need reminding ourselves who she was and why the then Pope (in 1853) gave her goodwill gifts in Rome after clapping his hands, calling "Bravo" and urging her to persevere with her good work.
During the papal audience, Pope Pius IX presented two mementos - an alabaster bust of herself and a gold medal. The bust is now owned by Caroline's great-great-grandson, but the gold medal is missing, according to the social reformer's latest biographer, Sarah Goldman, back in 2017.
The gold medal went missing, pawned in Sydney in the late 1850s when Caroline and her husband Archibald Chisholm "were in desperate need of funds". For odd as it may seem, Caroline Chisholm's love of mankind was a costly business at a time when she had little money herself and relied on benefactors to ease the plight of others.
A thumbnail sketch of committed social activist Caroline Chisholm (1808-1877) might simply state she was a well-known British humanitarian recognised for her support of immigrant females and family welfare in Australia generally.
A feminist, she ended up doing a great job of marketing Australia as a place to settle while trying to empower young women, through jobs and a new stability in life, to be able to make life choices for themselves in an age when women were regarded as second-class citizens. Amazingly, after coming to Australia she helped 11,000 immigrants into homes and jobs.
"And yet she doesn't get paid and money is always a (family) issue," author Goldman said during the release of her book, Caroline Chisholm: An Irresistible Force,a while back.
Goldman said she was spurred into action when discovering her own son "hadn't a clue who she was" so she started probing into Chisholm's life to become "totally hooked" in the process.
Six years later, her biography on Chisholm "the emigrants' friend" was finished and she felt vindicated believing Caroline had all but faded from the national consciousness. Maybe, but the word Chisholm is still a potent symbol.
A suburb in Canberra bears her name as does a federal electoral division and at least four schools and colleges both in Australia and overseas. The Federal Government's Department of Human Services in the ACT is also named in her honour.
Back in 2011, in the Hunter Valley, Chisholm, near Thornton, with 5000 building lots was announced as Maitland's newest suburb and the Maitland Catholic Diocese still apparently refers to the region as "the Chisholm area".
Chisholm is commemorated each May on the calendar of saints of the Church of England while her path of sainthood within the Catholic Church has begun.
And at 3 Mill Street, East Maitland, the "Caroline Chisholm Cottage" built between 1831 to 1835 and then rented by her in March 1842 to accommodate female English immigrants is a local heritage landmark.
The two remaining sandstone cottages here (of the original five working-class terraces) became the East Maitland Immigrants' Home, used as a hostel for homeless women who'd come to the Hunter searching for work to escape a life of poverty back home in Britain.
It remained as a barracks to shelter the unemployed and homeless for at least 10 years.
The humble, single-storey residence later became Maitland's first hospital, known as the Maitland Benevolent Asylum, and was added to the State Heritage Register in 1999.
Earlier, in 1985, there was talk of shifting the historic Caroline Chisholm Cottage/Barracks to a park but after protests, it remained where it is.
So, what's the story behind Chisholm, one of the nation's greatest pioneering women? Born Carolyn Jones in England, she converted to Catholicism around the time of her marriage aged 22 years in 1830 to Archibald Chisholm, an East Indian Company army officer.
After he proposed, however, Caroline declared she would marry him on one condition. That was that she wanted to lead a public life and help people.
Unusually for that bygone era, Archibald agreed and was incredibly supportive. The couple first lived in Madras, India, where she founded a female school of industry to help the idle daughters of European soldiers posted there. Here, they received a practical education learning how to read, write, cook and keep house while staying out of trouble.
The Chisholms then arrived in colonial Australia in 1838 during a crippling economic slump. And although he returned to his Indian regiment she stayed, establishing a female immigrant home in Sydney in 1841 before expanding work into the country.
She spent seven years on her philanthropic work. She'd been appalled by the plight of young female immigrants in NSW. With few jobs around, many resorted to prostitution to survive.
Caroline Chisholm haunted the docks, meeting immigrant ships, offering young girls advice and shelter. When the government of the day declined to help, she set up a home and helped the girls find jobs
She drew up Australia's first work contacts (some 2000 of them and never challenged), also founding employment agencies in dozens of rural centres.
She and her husband returned to England in 1846 encouraging more emigration from England to Australia. By 1854, her Family Colonisation Loan Society had helped more than 3000 people to emigrate. That same year the couple returned to Australia.
Author Goldman said she always wanted to write about a flesh and blood creature, of a remarkably strong woman, rather than someone more akin to a plaster saint.
Goldman discovered the death in infancy of Chisholm's first child possibly spurred her reforming work with homeless, friendless and penniless female immigrants.
Then, despite having eight children, there were the years of long separation from her husband and personal criticism by others.
And Chisholm wasn't a frumpy matron either. Rather the reverse in fact. Goldman said that while Chisholm had to work hard at being recognised and eventually assisted by authorities, she was actually "a very attractive young woman".
"Caroline Chisholm was really very, very radical for her time," Goldman once said.
"When she started she gave vulnerable women employment and respect. This was years before trade unions and equal pay. Later she spoke about the women's vote, the need to allocate land for new settlers for small farms, and was a supporter of multiculturism, of the need to welcome Chinese immigrants, when it wasn't popular to do so."