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Banks are an integral part of local communities.  Through supporting personal and business financial management they help communities to grow and prosper. This article looks at the development and past operations of banks in Oakleigh.  Ian Westman shared his memories of being a teller in Oakleigh in the 1970s, in an interview with History Monash Inc.

The establishment of banks in Melbourne pre-dated the 1 July 1851 birth of the Colony of Victoria.  Already by this date there were at least four major banks including the Bank of NSW, the oldest bank in Australia.[1]  The years of the gold rush, followed by an economic boom in Australia until the late 1880s, saw the establishment of many new banks as a vehicle for foreign and local investment, and as a deposit for earnings and gold discoveries.  The Bendigo Bank, for example, was established In Bendigo in 1858 to service those seeking their fortune on the goldfields[2].

The establishment in 1853 of Oakleigh as the principal town in the Parish of Mulgrave[3] and the opening of the Oakleigh Railway Station in 1877 were boosts to business in the Oakleigh area.  From the earliest days of European settlement, Oakleigh had been a stopover on the journey between Gippsland and Melbourne and the site of hotels and businesses to service the travellers.  Business and industry in Oakleigh were given a further impetus after World War I through the move of a growing population to the “outer suburbs”.  A small number of banks had operated in Oakleigh from the earliest days, starting with the English, Scottish and Australian Bank (ES&A) by 1879[4].  This bank’s premises still stand; a one-storey red brick building whose solid architecture conveys prosperity and respectability.  In 1913 the State Savings Bank of Victoria was the second bank, occupying premises on the north east corner of Portman and Eaton Streets.[5]  Other pre-World War II banks included the National Bank of Australia in 1919[6]; the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney by 1930[7], and in 1938 the Union Bank.[8]   The Bank of Australasia opened at 17 Station Street in 1949[9].

Photo:  The ES&A Bank – the red brick building on the left of photo – in the Broadway.  (Source:  History Monash Inc. archive.)

Ian Westman, a former employee of the ANZ bank,  remembers that by the 1970s there were seven major banks in Oakleigh:  the State Savings Bank  (on the north-east corner of Eaton Street and Portman Street, in what is now the Chemist Warehouse building); the Commonwealth Bank (north-east corner of Eaton Street and Chester Street); the Commercial Bank of Australia[10] (at 22 Atherton Road); the National  Bank of Australia (south east corner of Atherton Road and Eaton Street[11]);  the Bank of NSW (in Atherton Road) and the Commercial Banking Company[12] (south east corner of Chester and Eaton Streets). There was also a RESI Building Society in Portman Street – now the Bank of Melbourne location.

Photo:  The former State Savings Bank in Oakleigh – see above. (Source: History Monash Inc. archive.)

The Australian and New Zealand Bank had two branches in Oakleigh: one in Portman Street next to the Junction Hotel, and the other on the north-west corner of Chester and Station Street.[13]  By 1977 the two ANZ branches had merged into one branch located in Eaton Street, at the current Kentro café site.

When Chadstone shopping centre first opened in October 1960, the lack of an ANZ branch there led a number of Chadstone businesses to bank at the Oakleigh branch.  These included McEwan’s, which dominated the hardware business in those days.  Local businesses banking at ANZ Oakleigh included the Junction Hotel, the Oakleigh newsagency and Ventura buses.  The latter was a major source of coinage for the bank, as fares cost twenty cents.  The coins had to be weighed on giant scales and Ian remembers the huge bags of coins worth thousands of dollars which were carried to the Mayne Nickless van twice per week.  Also sustaining the banks was the multitude of face-to-face bank transactions as everyone used either cash or cheques.

Many people chose their bank on the basis of habits learned as a child.  The Commonwealth and State Savings Banks operated school accounts intended to develop lifetime bank loyalty.   Some people became linked to particular banks through their employer, who might have a representative of a bank visit on payday or have a particular bank located nearby.  “Mobile banking”, where a van or bus visited places such as businesses and agricultural shows, originated in the 1950s and 1960s.[14] Bank loyalty was also engendered by the requirements for a mortgage: applicants had to be customers with the lending bank and to have held a minimum balance there.

In the early 1970s, all local branch processes were done by hand, apart from the use of adding machines and the duties of the female typists.  Records of customers’ savings account were kept on cards, and their balances updated by hand.  Once per month tellers manually worked out customers’ interest, and customers then presented their passbooks for updating.  Tellers also balanced all holdings daily.

Tellers had to confirm the identity of cheque recipients before cheques could be cashed or paid into an account.  They did this by comparing signatures with cards holding customers’ sample signatures.  If the “bearer” was out of their area, they could go to another branch of their bank who would then ring the home branch to describe the signature on the cheque.  (In those days, few people had passports for identification and driver’s licences were often not signed.)

Security at local branches in the 1970s was managed by the male staff.  When Ian first started as a teller he was given a loaded Smith and Wesson gun to keep under the counter.  The guns were locked into the safe each night with the cash and ANZ male tellers annually undertook pistol training at a gun range in the backyard at the Queen/Bourke Street branch.  There were no retractable screens for tellers’ security, and alarms in the case of robberies were activated through touching a piece of plastic in the notes drawer.  Oakleigh, however, felt like a safe place in which to be a teller as the one-way streets and parked-up kerbs made it difficult to use a getaway car.  Nonetheless, Ian did have a heart-stopping moment one day when two men with hands inside their jackets entered his branch.  Only when they were followed by the wife of a local bookmaker, Jack Turley, did Ian realise that they were her security, not intent upon a hold-up.

In the mid Seventies, most tellers had a Leaving Certificate (Year 11)[15] and references were required, rather than criminal background checks as nowadays[16].  Staff with university degrees became more common a few years later.  A prerequisite was, however, a good haircut – it was the Seventies after all!

The introduction of BSB (Bank State Branch) identifiers commenced in the early 1970s for sorting of cheques.  The Bankcard was a 1970s innovation whereby banks shared a credit card in competition with Diners and American Express.  ATMs were well established in Australian banks by the 1980s and EFTPOS was introduced in 1984. Telephone banking commenced in the mid 1990s; internet banking in the late 1990s; and mobile banking in the 2010s.    These changes led to some branch closures across Australia.

Oakleigh still sustains seven Banks:  ANZ, Bank of Melbourne, Commonwealth Bank, Delphi Bank, NAB and Westpac, all in Atherton Road, and the Bank of Sydney in Portman Street.    (The Delphi Bank, formerly the Bank of Cyprus, is part of the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank.)   It is a tribute to the vibrancy of Oakleigh that the banks endure here.


History Monash Inc is grateful for the sponsorship it has received over several years from the Bendigo Bank – Pinewood Community Bank, through its Community Pitch Program. 

Ann Nield 2020



S.J. Butlin:  A Century of Banking in Victoria 1851-1951.  Bank of NSW 1951.

S.J. Butlin:  Australian and New Zealand Bank Longman 1961

H.G. Gobbi:  Taking Its Place: A History of Oakleigh 2004

Deborah Lasky-Davison of [email protected]

Eleanor Robin:  Swanston:  Merchant Statesman Australian Scholarly 2018

Bruce Trethowan:  Banks in Victoria 1851-1939. A study of banks in Victoria 1851-1939 for the Historic Buildings Preservation Council.  1976

Ian Westman, History Monash Inc





[1] The Bank of Australasia opened in Victoria in 1835 and the Union Bank in 1837. (ANZ Group Archives, email advice).  In 1838 Melbourne also had a branch of the Derwent Bank (Eleanor Robin:  Swanston: Marchant Statesman 2018 pp 47-48 and S.J. Butlin: A Century of Banking in Victoria Bank of NSW 1951 p. 9.) An agency of the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney was open by 1838.  (S.J. Butlin: ibid p. 9).  The Bank of NSW opened in Victoria in April 1851. (ibid p. 7)

[2] www.bendigobank.com.au/About Us

[3] Gobbi, H.G.: Taking Its Place:  A History of Oakleigh 2004 p. 17

[4] ibid p. 56.  The ES&A amalgamated with the ANZ in 1970 (Bruce Trethowan Banks in Victoria 1851-1939 pub. 1976 p. 123)

[5] Gobbi op cit p. 131

[6] ibid p. 131

[7] Bruce Trethowan: op cit p. 109.

[8] ANZ Group Archives, email advice.

[9] ibid

[10] The CBA and Bank of NSW merged to become Westpac in 1982.  (www/Westpac.com.au/Our History)

[11] The NAB moved to 22 Eaton Street on 25 July 1988.  (Source:  old photo in History Monash archives – sign on door of NAB Branch.)

[12] The CBC and NAB merged in 1982.(www.companieshistory.com)

[13] At this time the ANZ also had a sub-branch in the former premises of the ES&A bank on the corner of Drummond Street and Dandenong Road.

[14] ANZ Group Archives email advice.

[15] Nowadays tellers usually have Year 12 and a Cert IV in Financial Services or finance degree. Seek.com.au

[16] Seek.com.au