From Bank to Battlefield
This selection of photographs from the Reserve Bank of Australia's archives documents aspects of the building of the Bank's head office, and the Bank's involvement in raising funds through the sale of War Loan Bonds, and then Peace Loan Bonds after the war's conclusion. During this period, the Bank had a role as the government printer and had an official photographer who documented scenes in the nation's financial life.
Establishing the Bank
Upon becoming the Bank's Governor in 1912, Denison Miller decided that Sydney, the largest city in the Commonwealth, should be the site of the head office. A site on the corner of Pitt Street and Moore Street (now Martin Place) was purchased for £93,000 by the Commonwealth Government on 23 October 1912.Expand Gallery
The Laying of the Foundation Stones
The foundation stones for the head office were laid on 14 May 1913. Equipped with a gold trowel, the Prime Minister and Commonwealth Treasurer, Andrew Fisher, and the Bank's Governor, Denison Miller, each laid a foundation stone.
During his travels to England, Europe and the United States, the Bank's Governor, Denison Miller, studied the architecture of the banks and returned with ideas for the design of the building, which he communicated to the building's architect, John Kirkpatrick.
Reaching 150 feet
The new 10-storey structure rose to the full height allowed by the Height of Buildings Act 1912 (NSW), which prohibited the construction of any building higher than 150 feet. The building was one of the first large-scale, steel-framed skyscrapers in Australia.
The building's opening on 22 August 1916 was a remarkable occasion, with crowds amassing in Martin Place for the ceremony. During the years of World War I and its aftermath, the head office became the setting for successful campaigns to raise funds, so consolidating the Bank's role as a national institution and its association with patriotism in the minds of Australians.
Funding the War Effort
Early in 1915, the British Government began to feel the financial pressure of the war and indicated to the Australian Government that it would need to finance its own share of the war effort. The Government decided to raise loans from the public, and the Commonwealth Bank was entrusted with the task of managing the operation on behalf of the Commonwealth Government.Expand Gallery
Early War Loan Campaigns, 1915–1917
On the 1 July 1915, the first of seven war loans was launched with the Government hoping to raise £5 million. Public enthusiasm for the war effort was so great that the sum received at the close of the first loan was more than £13 million. The success of the first loan was achieved by a general newspaper appeal, but with the second loan, launched on 1 December 1915, a circular was posted to every resident in Australia who had an income of £300 or more per year, urging their support.
With the third loan of 1 June 1916, a more vigorous appeal was made to attract smaller subscribers. Only six months after the third loan appeal, a fourth was opened on 23 December 1916. The fifth war loan began on 6 September 1917. Dubbed the ‘Liberty Loan’, the title linked Australia with the United States and its name for loan campaigns.
‘Before Sunset’: The Sixth War Loan Campaign, and Tank Week, 1918
The sixth war loan was launched on 17 February 1918. As in other countries of the British Empire, tanks were used to demonstrate advances in military technology, and to attract money for the war effort. ‘Tank Week’ was held from 3 to 10 April 1918. Sir Walter Davidson, the Governor of New South Wales, opened the week outside the Commonwealth Bank's head office, delivering his address from an observation platform on a model tank.
Tanks in Sydney's Suburbs
As part of the sixth war loan campaign, model tanks toured to Sydney's suburbs, including Balmain, Bondi, Mosman, Newtown, North Sydney, Randwick and Redfern.
Travelling Tank Banks
Model tanks toured to regional areas, and across Australia. Different model tanks were used, so that Tank Week could occur simultaneously throughout the country. Owing to the success of the initial Tank Week (3–10 April 1918), its duration was extended.
‘Save and Serve’: The Seventh War Loan Campaign, 1918
To promote public interest in the seventh war loan campaign, a model destroyer, named HMAS Australia, was erected in Martin Place, Sydney. At the launch a ceremony took place from the bow of the destroyer and its guns were fired. As The Sun newspaper reported, ‘The whistle of the boat sounded a joyous blast and a thick column of smoke from the funnel completed the symbol of sending the Seventh War Loan on its voyage to success’ (The Sun, 16 September, 1918, p 6).
Branches at Home
The Commonwealth Bank coordinated with the Defence Department to operate branches at the military training camps, so helping the service people to open savings accounts and access their money while overseas.
The Commonwealth Bank opened branches in London to assist Australian service people. As Australian troops were stationed chiefly on Salisbury Plain, a branch of the Bank was opened at Tidworth Barracks in June 1916 to facilitate their banking needs. Additional branches were opened in Warminster, Weymouth and Hurdcott.
Representatives of Britain and France signed the Armistice with Germany on 11 November 1918, ending World War I. Some 170,000 Australians suffered from injuries and illness, and the Repatriation Department was formed by the Australian Government to manage assistance, pensions and training for veterans and war widows. The Bank was again engaged to manage the raising of funds through a series of three campaigns.Expand Gallery
Armistice Celebration, 1918
Crowds amassed in Martin Place, Sydney, as news of the Armistice began to reach Australia. The model destroyer, HMAS Australia, previously a focal point of the last war loan campaign, now served as a platform for speeches during the celebrations. William Holman, Premier of New South Wales, pledged in his speech that ‘From this victory we hope to emerge with such a reign of continuous peace that none of the nations will again ever dare attempt to break it’ (The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 November 1918).
‘Finish the Job’: The First Peace Loan, 1919
At the end of World War I, Australia remained in dire need of funds and so a new series of campaigns was launched, with the first peace loan being announced in the Federal Parliament on 30 July 1919. The amount requested was £25 million, but the Commonwealth Government was cautious in believing that this sum could be raised after the enduring financial strain of the war loan campaigns. As with those loans, a publicity scheme was initiated with prominent advertisements in the principal newspapers. On 13 September 1919, the Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, appealed for the peace loans at the ‘Temple of Peace’, Martin Place. Ultimately, the loan was oversubscribed by £25,370.
Visit of Edward, the Prince of Wales, and the Second Peace Loan, 1920
The second peace loan campaign was launched in July 1920, and one of its first subscribers was Edward, the Prince of Wales, who was visiting 110 cities and towns across the country to thank Australians for their contributions and sacrifices during the war. The Prince had served in the war and shouts of ‘Digger’ accompanied him throughout his visit until he became known affectionately as the ‘Digger Prince’. This loan was subscribed to the sum of £26,612,560.
‘The Digger's Loan’: The Third Peace Loan, 1921
In 1921 the third and final peace loan, known as the ‘Diggers Loan’, set the target sum of £10 million, and exceeded this amount by nearly £100,000. The official launch took place outside the Bank's head office, Sydney, at noon on 8 August 1921. The celebrated soprano Dame Nellie Melba was invited to cut the launch's ribbon using a pair of scissors made by ex-servicemen from the Vocational Training School in Sydney's Redfern. Once the ribbon was cut, coloured streamers, bunting and balloons were released, along with a flight of pigeons carrying messages that advised the public to invest in the bonds.
‘Diggerville’ comprised a series of temporary buildings erected by the Repatriation Department in Sydney's Martin Place and outside Melbourne's Town Hall. They housed various workshops, and returned service people demonstrated different types of vocational training. Each of the huts in Martin Place was named after a battle in which the Australian Imperial Force participated, including Lone Pine, Peronne, Cocos Island and Messines. The vocational training scheme was not only available to ex-servicemen but also to war widows and nurses who were given the opportunity to train in such occupations as nursing, dressmaking and millinery.