National Australia Bank | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Heritage

National Australia Bank

Item details

Name of item: National Australia Bank
Other name/s: Cbc Bank
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Commercial
Category: Bank
Primary address: 73 Hunter Street, Newcastle, NSW 2300
Local govt. area: Newcastle
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
73 Hunter StreetNewcastleNewcastle  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

The NAB has local historical, aesthetic and representative significance as part of a group of bank and insurance buildings constructed in the Newcastle CBD in the 1910s-1930s which transformed the streetscape of Hunter Street in particular and consolidated its position as the city’s premier business thoroughfare. As part of this group it signalled a new phase of commerce in the city, based on heavy industry, and gave banking and insurance a modern presence in the city in purpose-built premises. The building has local aesthetic significance, making an important contribution to the Hunter Street streetscape as a substantial and attractive Inter-War Palazzo style structure on the prominent corner of Hunter and Bolton Streets. The NAB has the capacity to represent key characteristics of the group of 1910s-1930s bank and insurance company premises in central Newcastle, both historically and aesthetically, occupying the site of a hotel, which then hosted banking functions for a number of financial institutions before classical-style purpose-built premises were constructed in the 1920s. The multi-story classical facade and lavish interior have the capacity to represent the group aesthetically, particularly as the interior fixtures and finishes of a number of other institutions on Hunter Street would appear to have been lost. Interiors of interest.
Date significance updated: 29 Oct 12
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.

Description

Designer/Maker: Kent and Massie
Construction years: 1921-
Physical description: The NAB building is a six storey stone-clad building in the Inter-War Commercial Palazzo style, and was the tallest in the city at the time of its construction. External walls are load bearing faced with sandstone above an igneous base. The lower level features rusticated stonework around arched windows, which contrasts with the lighter colour and smooth texture of the sandstone facing above with its pattern of rectangular fenestration punctuated by decorative stonework - string course, pilasters, and a decorative balcony on the third floor.

The ground floor banking chamber retains its layout, with a long service counter running along the the western side, and banking offices on the eastern side. The area features large doric columns and extensive timber & polished marble panelling.

Newcastle's CBD is of predominantly Victorian scale, and thus the NAB building and its fellow bank and insurance company buildings of the 1920s and 1930s retain their sense of grandness on the Hunter Street streetscape. The NAB forms part of an early twentieth century commercial streetscape which complements the important complex of Victorian public buildings on the northern side of Hunter Street between Bolton and Watt Streets.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Appears to be in good physical condition.
Date condition updated:23 Apr 08

History

Historical notes: The NAB building is associated with the history of Australian banking and with the development of Newcastle as a commercial centre, with a central business district evolving around Hunter and Watt Streets from the second half of the nineteenth century.

Before 1810, barter was the primary form of transaction in NSW. The colony was not provided with an adequate quantity of English coins for these alone to suffice for the purchase of imports and internal transactions, and the Governors administered the use of coinage originating from various parts of the world. When in 1800 a quantity of copper coin arrived in the colony, a great variety of coins including Dutch gilders, rupees and ducats were assigned specific sterling values for exchange purposes within the colony. There was great scope for counterfeiters, and barter, particularly in rum, seemed to many to be a more reliable form of exchange. In 1804, for instance, the Government brewery accepted payment for its beer in the form of wheat, barley, hops, casks or iron hoops. The consignments of coal sent from Newcastle to Calcutta though the 1810s were paid for in Bengal rum. An official system of paper money operated in parallel, with military purchases being made in 'Paymaster's notes' and 'Store receipts' given to those who lodged produce in the King's store. Private individuals began to follow suit, and issue their own 'notes' or 'cards' in a complex and flexible system of 'I.O.U.'. (F. A. Cadell, Early Banking in Sydney and Newcastle, pp. 2-3, 24)

Governor Macquarie endeavoured to implement monetary reform in the Colony, plagued still by a rum economy. Among his initiatives was the establishment of the colony’s first banking institution: the New South Wales Loan Bank opened 8th April 1817 in Mrs Mary Reiby's house in Macquarie Place, Sydney. Although Macquarie received correspondence from the Colonial Office the following year stating that he was not legally empowered to charter a bank, he delayed replying to the Colonial Office on the subject, and the bank continued to have unofficial success, receiving favourable comments in the 1822 Bigge Report. (F. A. Cadell, pp. 7-9) This bank was incorporated as the Bank of New South Wales in 1850.

In 1819 Robert Campbell, merchant, known as the 'father of Australian commerce' and the first to have shipped Newcastle coal to Calcutta, opened Australia's first savings bank, known as 'Campbell's Bank', and by 1832 it was a roaring success. Across the mid nineteenth century a number of other Australian banks sprang up, including the Union Bank of Australia, established first in Launceston, Tasmania in 1838, and the English, Scottish and Australian Bank established in 1852. (F. A. Cadell, pp. 9, 14) By 1850, eighteen banks had been established, three were based in London, but the remainder were all based in Australian population centres. It was not until after 1850 and the gold rushes, however, that these institutions began to set up branches in NSW's larger centres in any significant numbers. Banking and investment initiatives expanded during the gold rushes, and also during the economic boom of the 1880s. (Australian Encyclopaedia Vol. 1, p. 412).

Although at least two banks had considered Newcastle and the Hunter Valley within their prospective sphere of business from the 1830s, it was indeed not until the mid 1850s that banks began to establish a presence in Newcastle. When they did, their focus was very much on establishing a good position on one of the town's main thoroughfares, centred on Watt Street and Hunter Street.

The penal settlement from which the city of Newcastle grew, had grown up around Watt Street (then known as George Street) which led from the wharf to the commandant's house overlooking the small settlement. After most of the convicts were moved to Port Macquarie in 1822, the settlement was re-laid out by Surveyor Dangar on a grid pattern which forms today's central Newcastle. Dangar's plan was for a town with 190 allotments, a church enclave and a marketplace, suited to fulfilling the function of main centre and port town of the rapidly developing Hunter Valley. Superimposed onto the irregular pattern of the convict settlement, the grid necessitated the demolition of even some of the more solid buildings of the penal settlement, none of which survive today. In the event, Maitland-Morpeth proved to be the main centre of the Hunter Valley region prior to the coming of the railway. In 1829 the Australian Agricultural Company, looking for coal-bearing land, was granted 2,000 acres on the western boundary of the town (Brown Street), bringing new life to Newcastle. Up to the 1850s, the Company did not have the right to alienate any of its land, even when it was no longer useful for mining. The development of central Newcastle as a town was thus restricted to the compact area east of Brown Street. Before 1850 this was not a problem as Newcastle was still a mere village, the home of about 1,500 people of whom some one fifth were coal miners. The mid 1850s, however, saw the arrival of rail in Newcastle, and business began to take off, as the colony's economy generally boomed due to the gold rushes. A Chamber of Commerce formed in Newcastle in 1856 and pressed for improvement of port facilities to facilitate commercial growth of the town. The local coal industry was growing steadily, and from the 1860s local manufacturing industries, processing the produce of the Hunter Valley (some of which were established in the 1840s), began to recover from the labour shortages and inflation caused by the gold rushes. (City Wide Heritage Study, Thematic History, pp. 3-6)

The Bank of New South Wales was the first to commence operations in Newcastle. In 1832 the bank had selected an allotment on Watt Street. The land, however, passed through the hands of two other owners before the bank opened its Newcastle branch there in June 1853. A month earlier the bank had opened a branch in Maitland. Bowker and Tally, leading Newcastle storekeepers, were the first depositors. Similarly, the Bank of Australasia had considered commencing operations in East Maitland from 1839. A Newcastle branch was opened in 1854, supplied at the outset with cash from the East Maitland office. The bank purchased the area bounded by Hunter, Brown, King and Crown Streets, one acre, from the Australian Agricultural Company and erected a bank premises on the corner of Hunter and Brown Streets, gradually selling off the remainder of the block. The Australian Joint Stock Bank opened a branch in May 1861 on the corner of Hunter and Watt Streets, then regarded as the premier business position in town, becoming the Australian Bank of Commerce in 1910. This bank amalgamated with the Bank of New South Wales, and continued to occupy this site, now known as Bank Corner. (F. A. Cadell, pp. 16-17, 23)

The latter decades of the nineteenth century saw a bustle of bank activity on the intersection of Hunter Street with Watt and Bolton Streets, consolidating this area as Newcastle’s main banking and business district. More banks opened Newcastle branches, and parcels of land and premises frequently changed hands between banks, as they jostled for a good position. This period saw the construction of an important group of public buildings on the northern side of Hunter Street, between Bolton Street and Watt Street, which further confirmed the status of Hunter Street as the premier business thoroughfare: the Electric Telegraph Office and new Police Station both constructed in 1861, and an expanded Post and Telegraph Office constructed in 1872, and then an even grander Post Office building, the impressive classical edifice on the north eastern corner of Bolton and Hunter Streets, constructed 1903/4. (Government Architect's Branch, PWD NSW, 1983, pp 3, 8; Maitland & Stafford, 1997, p 43) The banks, on the other hand, did not put their architectural stamp onto Hunter Street until later, but generally adapted existing buildings for their purposes until the 1920s and 1930s. The London Chartered Bank, for example, operated for at least a decade from 1873 in a weatherboard building on the corner of Bolton and Scott Streets, previously occupied by a Seaman's Outfitter. Similarly, the Commercial Bank of Australia Ltd, occupied the School of Arts Building in Hunter Street for several decades to 1918; and the Union Bank of Australia adapted the Ship Inn for bank purposes until constructing its own premises. (F. A. Cadell, pp. 19 - 24) This is in contrast to many other regional centres in NSW where purpose-built Victorian bank buildings formed a significant part of the late nineteenth century streetscape, for example the CBC buildings at Dubbo, Bega and Bourke, dating from the 1860s – 1880s and the Union Bank building at Orange constructed in 1858.

The building now known as the National Australia Bank (NAB) is located on the south eastern corner of Bolton and Hunter Streets, opposite the 1903 Post Office and diagonally opposite the ANZ bank building (1914). It was constructed for the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney (CBC), which initially opened business in Newcastle in July 1868. The bank's first Newcastle premises were located where the former AMP bank is now situated, on the same side of Hunter Street, a few doors to the east. The CBC purchased the site on the corner of Hunter and Bolton Streets in 1897 for 7450 pounds. The Hudson family had built their Prince of Wales Hotel on the site some time after 1848, and had sold their hotel to the Bank of New Zealand in 1878 for 5000 pounds, at which point the bank had already been in tenancy of the building for two years. The Bank of New Zealand continued to operate from the hotel building until the branch closed in 1894, the CBC then operated from the hotel building for several decades. (F. A. Cadell, pp. 18-19).

The CBC erected the present (NAB) building in 1921, occupying other temporary premises in Hunter street during its construction. It is a six storey stone-clad building designed by Kent and Massie in the Inter-War Commercial Palazzo style, a style developed for the classical treatment of multi-storey commercial buildings, and favoured by banks, insurance companies and other well-established and conservative financial institutions. The CBC had an ongoing association with this firm, which designed its head office in Sydney in 1923 and a number of other branches including those at Cessnock and Albury. The firm were prominent designers of commercial buildings in the Inter-War Chicagoesque and Palazzo styles. The construction of the building was part of a wave of substantial rebuilding activity particularly on Hunter Street between Newcomen and Watt Streets during the 1920s. A new period of commercial development in the city centre had been ushered in by the establishment of the BHP Steelworks at Port Waratah in the 1910s and associated heavy industry, resulting in a new influx of banks, insurance companies and other office users to the city centre. Many of the buildings constructed by these companies made use of the recently developed safety elevator and hidden steel frame to attain six or eight storeys, mostly clad in classical facades. Other buildings resulting from this activity include the ANZ building diagonally opposite; the T and G Building at the corner of Hunter and Watt Streets, and the AMP building at 53 Hunter Street. (Maitland and Stafford, pp. 18-19; F. A. Cadell, p. 19; Apperly, Irving and Reynolds, pp. 168-171, 183).

The NAB is now Australia's largest financial institution. It was established in Victoria in 1858, registered under the Victorian Companies Act 1890 in 1893. From the early twentieth century it absorbed a series of other banks, including the Royal Bank of Queensland, Colonial Bank of Australasia Ltd, and Ballarat Banking Company Ltd. In 1983/4 it was known as National Commercial Banking Corporation of Australia Ltd, and took on its current name in 1984. (Guide to Australian Business Records website, http://www.gabr.net.au/biogs/ABE0218b.htm) The NAB did not commence operations in Newcastle until 1919, when it took over the premises of the City Bank of Sydney on the north eastern corner of Hunter and Watt Streets. It was some time after 1937 that the NAB purchased the premises of the CBC on the corner of Hunter and Bolton Streets, continuing to utilise the lower level as a public service area and bank offices and to lease out space on the upper levels, the bank 'chambers', to local solicitors and other businesses. (F. A. Cadell, pp. 20, 22). At the time of writing the building has been out of use as a bank for several years, and the upper levels are also mostly vacant.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Commerce-Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services (none)-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The NAB has local historical significance as part of a group of bank and insurance buildings constructed in the Newcastle CBD in the 1910s-1930s which transformed the streetscape of Hunter Street in particular, signalled a new phase of commerce in the city, based on heavy industry, and gave banking and insurance a modern presence in the city in purpose-built premises.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
Within the limited scope of this review, the building has not been found to have significance under this criterion.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The building has local aesthetic significance, making an important contribution to the Hunter Street streetscape as a substantial and attractive Inter-War Palazzo style structure on the prominent corner of Hunter and Bolton Streets. Like the neighbouring AMP and ANZ buildings it demonstrates the preference for classical facades by financial institutions during this period. Both the exterior and the ground floor interior demonstrate the projected-self image of banks as solid, permanent and wealth-creating entities.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Within the limited scope of this review, the building has not been found to have significance under this criterion.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
Within the limited scope of this review, the building has not been found to have significance under this criterion.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
Within the limited scope of this review, the building has not been found to have significance under this criterion.
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
The NAB has the capacity to represent key characteristics of the group of 1910s-1930s bank and insurance company premises in central Newcastle. The history of the site is representative of this group, as a hotel, which then hosted banking functions for a number of financial institutions before classical-style purpose-built premises were constructed in the 1920s. The multi-story classical facade and lavish interior have the capacity to represent the group aesthetically, particularly as the interior fixtures and finishes of a number of other institutions on Hunter Street would appear to have been lost.
Integrity/Intactness: Exterior and ground floor have a high level of integrity, interiors of upper levels were not viewed.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental Plan I39615 Jun 12 64 
Heritage study     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Newcastle Heritage Study1990189Unknown  Yes
Review of Items of Potential State Significance in the Newcastle City Area2008 Sue Rosen and Associates Heritage Assessment And History (HAAH)Emma Dortins Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written 2007City Wide Heritage Study - Thematic History
Written  Guide to Australian Business Records website, viewed 17 April 2008
WrittenApperly, Irving and Reynolds1989Identifying Australian Architecture
WrittenBarry Maitland and David Stafford1997Architecture Newcastle
WrittenF A Cadell1937Early Banking in Sydney and Newcastle
WrittenGovernment Architect's Branch, PWD NSW1983Conservation Plan for Historic Buildings in Hunter Street, Newcastle
WrittenGrolier Society of Australia1963The Australian Encyclopaedia, Vol 1

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2170189
File number: 189


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