The Nambucca Heads branch of the ANZ Bank will close its doors for the last time today.
The bank branch was built on the site of an old wooden Presbyterian church in the mid to late 50s.
It was once the English, Scottish and Australian Bank (ES&A), and the day it opened was a landmark moment for the growing township; it heralded the first full bank branch in Nambucca Heads.
Until then, there had only been three bank agencies – the Commonwealth which operated out of the Post Office, the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, and the Rural Bank of NSW – which posted out two staff members a couple of days a week from their Macksville branches to service the populace of Nambucca Heads.
From the day it opened it was a fairly busy institution, with Percy Brown at the helm, and its five staff members chuffed to hold such prestigious positions in their own community.
The main businesses it serviced were the old Golden Sands Tavern, the RSL Club and later, the Bowling Club.
The branch grew steadily in function and staff numbers throughout the 60s.
In 1970, a merger between the ES&A and ANZ saw the branch take on the latter’s moniker. The merger was also the catalyst for another major change in the banking world – the instigation of the ‘bank card’; the first incarnation of the modern day credit card.
One Nambucca staff member, Les Webber, had the honour of transferring down to Sydney to help with its rollout.
Yesterday, on the penultimate day of the branch’s trade, a group of former staff members from the 60s gathered to reminisce and also lament the closure.
“There’s a lot of memories wrapped up in that business and that building,” Carmel Howle said.
She recalls the days when, as a ledger machinist/typist, she would have to type up loans in triplicate on carbon paper.
“And if you made any errors, you’d have to try your hardest to rub them out,” she said.
Morrie Miles was the branch manager from 1969 to 1974 and remembers having to balance the books at the end of each day.
“You stayed back until everything balanced, and I remember the whole staff staying back for four hours one afternoon to find a single missing penny,” he said.
Anne Pade commands the distinct honour of being the first female teller in Nambucca Heads after the edict was given down in Sydney in 1970 to allow the practise.
“I remember a lot of the men didn’t like it,” she said.
“When I told my kids about it later, they thought it was all a bit stupid. They’d grown up assuming that women had always been allowed to work in those roles.”
Another glass ceiling breaker, Carmel Howle, was also the first woman in the branch to be given permission to stay on at work after she was married in 1968.
Anne doesn’t blink when she tells me about the pistol training she used to have to undergo as a teller.
“Oh yes, well they used to have to walk the cash from the bank across the road to the post office, so anyone who trodded across was escorted by someone with a pistol in their pocket,” she said.
But Morrie remembers that customer security was virtually non-existent in those days.
“Everyone knew everyone and that was that,” he said.
“Now, you have to give over your birth date, your drivers licence and all the rest, to prove who you are.”
And as far as bank security was concerned, well they needn’t have bothered; Anne said there were no holdups during the time she worked there.
And Morrie recalls a heart-stopping moment in the early 60s when he was still an accountant and was tasked with locking up at the end of the day. It wasn’t until he got home that he realised he didn’t have the keys on him; he’d left them in the big green bank door. The bank manager, Ces Woodman, was livid.
Thankfully a diligent citizen had safely deposited them in the care of a staff member at the RSL club.
Of course, one huge change for the industry came in 1966 with the changeover to decimal currency.
“I remember having to sit with our manager doing our exams to prove we were competent in converting pounds, pence and shillings into dollars and cents,” Carmel said.
And when the coins arrived off the truck, we had to roll them up into their brown paper wrappers. The one cent pieces were the biggest challenge.
“Yes, it was definitely a work of art,” Morrie said.
He sighs as he talks about how sad it is to see the end of the branch: “A lot of young people from the area went through the system, and we worked hard over many years to build the business up. To see it close now is such a shame”.
”It was good work, and you met so many people. It was all face-to-face interaction, none of this over-the-phone business. Everyone would come in and see their manager.”
In fact, this shift from face-to-face interaction to phone and internet-based user systems is precisely the reason for the branch closing its doors today.
“Increasingly we are seeing customers prefer to use online options and ATMs for their banking, which is part of a broader trend towards self-service for day-to-day banking. As a result, fewer customers are using our Nambucca Heads branch,” ANZ general manager NSW and ACT, Amanda Heath-Ogden said.
“Of our customers who have Nambucca Heads as their home branch, only 17 per cent of them currently use the branch with 59 per cent of them preferring internet or mobile banking.”
But Wayne is not convinced by this rationale.
“That’s fine for the young ones who have grown up with mobile phones in their hands. But a lot of the older customers, who don’t use computers, don’t want to have to go to Toormina or Kempsey,” he said.
I think a lot of the people who are making these sorts of decisions are sitting snug in an office in Sydney, having never crossed the Harbour Bridge. They’ve got no idea what it’s like out here.
“I mean technology is fine as long as it’s working, but I’ve been without the internet at home now for the last six weeks.”
And all commiserate with the current staff who, as of tomorrow, will no longer have a job to go to.
They also feel for the staff at the post office, who will be fielding customers from St George, NAB, Westpac and now the ANZ all wishing to make transactions.
“And they don't have the security over there that the banks do,” Morrie said.
“With this bank closing we’re now back down to just one bank in town, so it’s ‘back to the future’ as they say.”
But no amount of public concern seems to stem the penetration of centralisation nor our increasing reliance on technology. Today’s closure marks just one more, with the Wauchope, Wingham and Laurieton ANZ branches all recently meeting the same fate in the name of cost-saving.