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The Significance of Martin Place

The Bank's position at the junction of Martin Place and Macquarie Street borrows symbolic associations from both places.

In January 1960, the Reserve Bank of Australia commenced operations as the nation's central bank with Dr HC Coombs as its first Governor. It was formed by the Reserve Bank Act 1959, which separated the central banking role of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia from its commercial functions. The legislation mandated that the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Commonwealth Banking Corporation should have separate head offices, and plans were developed for the Reserve Bank's new headquarters in Martin Place Sydney, between Macquarie and Phillip Streets. With this opportunity, Dr HC Coombs appreciated the symbolic importance of establishing a distinct public profile for the Reserve Bank in order to ensure public recognition and confidence in the institution. [1]

The Reserve Bank building faces Martin Place, a space that has historically been the centre of Sydney's banking and commercial district. Institutions such as the Australasia Bank, the Sydney Stock Exchange, the Colonial Bank, the Rural Bank of New South Wales, and later the National Australia Bank and Westpac have all established offices there at various times. The building that housed the headquarters of the Bank's predecessor as Australia's central bank, the Commonwealth Bank at 42 Martin Place, is one of the most prominent buildings in the precinct. These institutions have been crucial to the functioning of Australia's banking system and its economy.

View of Martin Place from the balcony of the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales, 1928.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, PN-016475.

At its eastern end Martin Place meets Macquarie Street – Sydney's premier civic boulevard. Public institutions, such as the New South Wales Parliament, Supreme Court and State Library of New South Wales define the character of Macquarie Street as a civic, democratic precinct. Traditionally, these institutions have been of national as well as state significance. The Parliament of New South Wales was the nation's first elected legislature. As the residence of the Governor of New South Wales, Government House has served as the symbol of an enduring government office in Australia, and the law courts on Macquarie Street are the location for the High Court of Australia's sitting in Sydney. The State Library of New South Wales traces its origins to the first public library established in Australia.

The positioning of the Reserve Bank of Australia at the junction of Martin Place and Macquarie Street borrows associations from both spaces. The Bank's position on this site complements its identity as an organisation that is central to the functioning of the Australian economy, but also an institution that represents the interests of the Australian people and remains accountable to them.


John Murphy, Planned for Progress, Reserve Bank of Australia, Sydney, 2010, p 10 [1]