Backward Glance – Trials and tribulations of a pioneering bank manager
  • Wednesday 30 October 2019

This is a tale about the perseverance and determination of one pioneer bank manager, Mr Arthur Bennett.

Arthur, who was working for the E S & A Bank in Kangaroo Valley, received a telegram in 1906 to report to the Resident Inspector in Sydney and was informed that he was to open the first Sub-Branch in Queensland at Nambour.

Lodgings had been arranged in an auctioneer’s premises where the room was neither lined nor sealed. At particular times of the year his room and bed were covered in a blanket of burnt megass from the furnace at the Moreton Central Sugar Mill. However Arthur, in his indomitable way, remedied this problem with Mr Whalley, the storekeeper in Nambour, fitting out part of his store premises and also building a strong room.

With his promotion came an increase in salary, from 160 pounds per annum to 180 pounds per annum, with a horse allowance of 12 pounds 10 shillings per annum, but he had to supply the horse, saddle and bridle.

Not one for sitting in the office and waiting for business, Arthur went out into the community on horseback over the rough tracks to sell his trade.

At that time banks in Queensland had not ventured into the banking agency business but Arthur, after consulting with Mr Hooper, the Brisbane Manager, opened agencies in Eumundi and Maleny.

Setting off from Nambour one morning at 6am after a breakfast of biscuits and tea, he began visiting farms along the road to Kenilworth. Discussions were not always successful.

When chatting with a farmer with a good property, Arthur was told that he would never buy a cow unless he had the cash to pay for it and would never go into debt. Undaunted, Arthur went on to say that with such a fine property and not wishing to borrow, he would never progress. The farmer turned on his heel saying his dinner was ready and left Arthur smelling the food cooking and morosely experiencing a sinking feeling as well as hunger in his stomach.

Despite this, Arthur continued his mission, reaching Kenilworth at sunset and after chatting with a farmer there, was invited to have tea and stay the night. In the morning the farmer put him on the road to the Obi Obi Creek area and to Arthur’s surprise he announced that he was going with him to Nambour, bringing the deeds to his farm to organise a loan. In Arthur’s notes he writes that this farmer ended his working days in a very sound financial position.

Travelling to Maleny was a good four hour ride over rough country and scrub land and it was necessary to have a large strong pocket knife to cut tracks through the “fun” lawyer vines when trees fell across the road.

It was on these trips to Maleny that Arthur began the “flag” system – if a resident wished to pay into his account or draw out money he would fasten a piece of white cloth to a stick and place it above the front gate. On seeing the flag, he would call in and the practice became known as “Bennett’s Flag” throughout the district.

This network of communication worked well, too well in some cases, one dear old soul would fly the flag and on Arthur entering would say “Oh! I just wanted to give you some hot scones and a cup of tea.”

Travelling brought its perils. When staying overnight at one farm house, on going to bed he was given a candle and a tin of Insectobane and was told that this was the time of year when the fleas were bad. Twice he was bushed in the Maleny area and slept under the trees and on another occasion in wet weather, climbing out of Baroon Pocket leading the horse, he slipped and the frightened horse knocked him over. Needless to say, as he was sliding his way down to the foot of the mountain to recapture his horse, he was not very enthused about the banking business in Queensland.

The competition was becoming aggressive and it was Arthur’s custom to go to the Nambour Railway Station about 9am when the morning train from Gympie passed to see what was happening. One Thursday morning on the train he saw the Eumundi manager of the Bank of New South Wales with a saddle beside him in the train. On his return to the office there was a letter from the storekeeper at Montville, Mr Smith, announcing that the Wales bank intended opening an agency that day.

Having his horse at hand, Arthur got the teller to fix up some cash, cheque books and one large Holiday Banking Notice and headed off to Montville taking a short cut. The storekeeper had a room fixed up and displayed an altered Holiday Banking Notice announcing that the E S & A Bank was opening an agency that day.

He rode around the spur of the range and spoke with the settlers in the area announcing that an E S & A agency was opening. Later it was told that the Wales Manager visited one of Arthur’s customer’s homes to announce that the Bank of New South Wales was opening an agency, only to be told that he was too late and that Bennett had already opened an agency.   The Wales man laughed and said, “You can’t pull my leg like that because I saw him on the railway platform at Nambour this morning!” 

On another occasion, his lookouts in the district informed Arthur that there was a prospect of the Bank of New South Wales opening a branch in Eumundi and so he got in first by converting the existing agency into a full branch. 

The “bush telegraph” assisted Arthur again when the Bank of New South Wales opened an agency at Yandina, he was able to open an agency there on the same day using a bedroom on the verandah of the hotel as an office.

Over the years, the E S & A Bank continued to grow. On Arthur’s retirement at the end of 1924, there were 10 staff and branches had been opened in Maleny, Landsborough, Palmwoods, Eumundi, Cooroy, Pomona and Kin Kin, with agencies at Mapleton, Yandina, Woombye and Maroochydore, and they were undoubtedly doing the largest business in the North Coast District.

Thanks to the staff of the Heritage Library for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.