Investing in The Bank
After Four YEars of Fighting
The First World War drew to a close with the signing of the armistice on 11 November 1918. The war was over and those who had survived were finally able to return home. A challenge for governments was how to transition large numbers of returning soldiers back into the workforce.
Less than two months later, the Government of Western Australia passed new legislation to facilitate returned soldiers taking up farmland. Over the next five years this included land in Coorow, Winchester, Carnamah and Yandanooka. It resulted in an influx of new farmers and their families moving to the North Midlands.
The success of returned soldiers on the Inering Estate, between Carnamah and Perenjori, raised the profile of Carnamah and the worth of its agricultural land. Thousands of hectares of virgin bush to the east of Carnamah, which no one had wanted to buy, quickly became a sought after commodity.
With an increasing number of farmers, farmhands and clearers, there was an increased demand for services. The townsite of Carnamah had been gazetted in 1913 but ten years later it was still mostly covered in bush. In the late 1920s, however, the townsite developed rapidly and was often remarked to have "sprung up overnight like a field of mushrooms".
Within a few short years there was a hotel, bakery, tearooms, power station, butcher's shop, garage, multiple rural traders, general stores and many residential homes. After another few years there was also a timber yard, tailor, hospital, post office, newspaper, dentist, chemist, accountant and even a solicitor.
The first bank to open a branch in Carnamah was The Western Australian Bank in 1926 (which later became the Bank of New South Wales and is now Westpac). They had the monopoly on local banking services until 1928 when the Bank of Australasia came to town.
Bank of Australasia
The Bank of Australasia opened in Carnamah in mid 1928 and operated from a rented building on Yarra Street for its first two years. In 1930 it had an imposing bank and residence built at 8 Macpherson Street. Note the rail out the front to tie up your horse!
"At a cost of about £4,000 a branch of the Bank of Australasia has been completed at Carnamah. It consists of an octagonal banking chamber, a manager"s room, a strong room and six living rooms for the staff. It has been constructed in brick, with metal ceilings and cement facings." − The West Australian newspaper, 27 September 1930
In 1943 the Carnamah branch of the Bank of Australasia was shut down as many of the bank's staff had enlisted to serve in the Second World War. The back of the building was rented out as a private home and the branch never reopened.
Rural & INdustries Bank
In 1945 the Rural & Industries Bank opened a branch in Carnamah with a second hand counter, two tables and four chairs! Two years later, in 1947, the Carnamah branch of the R&I Bank purchased and moved into the bank and residence at 8 Macpherson Street.
As the bank’s business grew, the inside of the building was renovated and changed almost completely. A chimney and ten internal walls were removed, some windows and fireplaces were covered up, doorways moved and a series of false walls and ceilings installed.
In 1994 the Rural & Industries Bank was renamed Bankwest and Carnamah’s branch was closed in 1997. This building was then used for various purposes, including a doctor’s surgery and as a liquor store.
The Bank Gallery
After being vacant for a number of years, the building was acquired from its owner in Mauritius in 2015. It was extensively renovated over a two-year period, starting with the removal of four truckloads of false walls, broken doors, floor coverings, fixtures and suspended ceilings. The building has now been restored to its original configuration.
The front rooms of the building provide a dedicated gallery space for the people of the North Midlands while the residential portion has office space, a meeting room and facilities to host artists in residence.
The Bank Gallery is an outcome of the North Midlands Project.
The Manager's Office
In June 1928 the Bank of Australasia sent Geoff Ryder up from Perth to open a new branch of the bank in Carnamah. Geoff was the branch's first manager and the first to live and work from its premises at 8 Macpherson Street.
Geoff was very active in the community, serving as Treasurer of Carnamah's Race Club, Agricultural Society, Recreation Ground Improvement Committee, Parents & Citizens Association and Athletic Club. In 1930 he was a founding member of both the Carnamah Golf Club and the Carnamah Masonic Lodge. He was also President of the Carnamah sub-branch of the R.S.L. and collected donations for the erection of the Carnamah War Memorial.
"There was a bank manager in Carnamah, Geoff Ryder. We were broke and I went to the bank wanting about fourteen pounds. He said that would cost him his job. He talked to me for a while and then he pulled out a drawer and gave me a cheque of his own. I will never forget that man. I gave the money back when we stripped some wheat." − local farmer Jack Gilmour
In 1932 Geoff was transferred to the bank’s head office in Melbourne but before he left about 500 people attended his farewell at the Carnamah Hall. Despite moving interstate, Geoff maintained connections to Carnamah and visited over the following decades when he was in WA. In his honour, we have named his old manager's office The Geoff Ryder Room.
Artworks of The Bank created in 2017 by students from the Carnamah, Perenjori, Three Springs and Coorow schools
The Bank Gallery was officially opened on 30 April 2017 as part of the Australian Heritage Festival. The opening was attended by a crowd of people from across the North Midlands in addition to visitors from Geraldton and Perth. Duncan Ord, Director-General of the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, officially opened the building:
"It's an absolute delight to come up to Carnamah this morning for this opening. I get lots of invites but occasionally one particularly intrigues me.
What inspired me was the story about a bank that had closed, as is the case with many banks and other buildings in small country towns, and that it had been not only restored as a piece of heritage infrastructure but was being reopened giving new life to the community through the arts. That resonated with me enormously.
I would like to pay tribute to the North Midlands Project for their vision to bring life to this building. The restoration here is really magnificent. It is so faithful to the building.
I was really impressed driving into Carnamah [seeing] the photographs of the past in windows of buildings, which gives a real sense of the long enduring history of this community and its people. For many years no one could have imagined the Rural & Industries Bank wouldn't be here. Such is change in our society that the things that we would think are the most stable in our community, like banks, move on. Yet one of the enduring elements is of course our creativity and the role the arts play in society...
I think this is the beginning of a whole new era for Carnamah and a whole new era for artists in this region. The North Midlands Project is highly ambitious and is clearly going to inspire people."
- Duncan Ord