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Author: Tara Oldfield
In 1939 a writer for the Weekly Times marvelled at the oddities of Hollywood, including the revelation of the drive-in bank.
“Where a time-pressed customer can cash a cheque, make a deposit, even arrange a mortgage loan without getting out of his car.”
Australia had to wait another 15 years for the drive-in bank to arrive, with the first branch opening at the English, Scottish and Australian (ES&A) Bank in Camberwell Junction, Melbourne, 1954. The official opening was written up in the papers. Lord Baillieu, Director of the ES&A Bank in London, visited Australia for the opening and was meant to be the first customer but was pipped at the post by two other eager beavers driving in ahead of him.
A journalist from The Herald also drove through on opening day, reporting a play-by-play for readers perhaps a little nervous to try out such an innovation:
“I drove into the driveway from Burke Road, around the corner of the bank, and pulled up at a teller’s window built out from the side wall. A sliding steel drawer moved out from the front of the window operated by the teller with a lever. I put my arm out of the car window, placed my cheque in the drawer and it moved back into the teller’s cage. Through the bullet-proof glass I saw the teller take my cheque and check it. He spoke into a microphone. His voice came out of a grille in the cage front. He asked how I wanted the money and I replied by speaking normally towards the grille. The teller heard my voice but a person in a car behind me could not have heard it. The teller put the money in the drawer and sent it out to me.”
He reported that the whole transaction took less than two minutes.
Bank robbers must have been thrilled to learn they’d no longer have to leave their getaway car – until reading of the teller’s window being made of bullet-proof glass!
The above photo from our Melbourne Harbour Trust collection shows the drive-in bank some years later – we’re estimating mid-1960s. You can clearly see the teller’s window and the roof awning to prevent your arm and cash from getting wet in the rain. The original building, sans the drive through elements, was constructed in 1885, and designed by architects William Wardell and W L Vernon. It was built in the Camberwell Junction location to provide loans to the builders constructing homes in the area in the 19th century. After ES&A Bank merged with ANZ, the branch was sold to Henley’s cars. The building remains today as a rare example of Wardell’s bank architecture in gothic style and is now a restaurant known as The Meat & Wine Co.
Drive-in banking throughout suburban Melbourne
No doubt, landing the first drive-in bank in Australia was seen as a big coup for Melbourne, with this image featured in the Melbourne Harbour Trust collection alongside photos of other Melbourne landmarks, architecture and spots considered worthy of boasting about to tourists, ie. the Shrine, Sydney Myer Music Bowl, various business headquarters, theatres, beaches and shopping centres.
When I first saw the photo I was shocked. I’d never seen nor even heard of a drive-in bank! A quick survey of my PROV colleagues revealed only about five staff remembered drive-in banking at all. The few who did, suggested they weren’t around very long as not many people used them.
Meg Jenkins remembered one on Warrigal Road in Cheltenham:
“I used to work across the road and in those days we were paid by cheque. We would have our deposit and withdrawal forms already completed and pile into a car and rush over at lunch time. Sadly we’d inevitably get stuck behind a shop keeper or business owner who was taking forever and some of us would rush into the bank to join a line. I don’t remember it being very popular. ”
Meg said the drive-in bank in Cheltenham was running through the 1980s but closed by the early 1990s when it became a funeral parlour.
Daniel Wilksch said he remembered visiting a US drive-in bank as a child before working at one here in Australia:
“I remember being in the family car when my parents visited one in the US,” he said. “The US Bank was set up a bit like a service station, with pneumatic tubes and intercom boxes. So people pulled in, spoke to someone and sent all the paperwork through the tubes. I then worked at a bank with a drive-in (here in Australia). It was a business banking branch in Mount Waverly, and the drive-in was only used for deposits from institutional customers – more of a drive-by bank.”
Drive-in banking across Australia
For a time, it seems, there were drive-in banks right across the country.
This photo from the National Archives of Australia collection shows a similar ES&A Bank drive-in service in NSW in 1971.
While this photo from the State Library of Western Australia shows the view from inside, at an Innaloo branch of the R&I Bank, in 1967.
“Banking became easier when we started getting paid directly into our bank accounts and there wasn’t a mad rush to get to the bank before they closed at 4pm,” Meg said. “Some banks started opening on Friday nights and Saturday mornings and ATMs were a lot more common. I think the drive-in was a bit of a fad that never really took off.”
While the old window style seems to have disappeared, there are drive-in ATMs in Geelong West and Boundary Road near Aspendale Gardens (displayed below on Google street view.) Perhaps there’s a few more dotted around the country?
Some references are linked throughout the article, others include:
- Heritage Council website: https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/188
- NLA Trove newspaper articles:
Thanks to my PROV colleagues who provided recollections, links and suggestions for this blog post.