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Telling ANZ’s gothic story

"Such documents bring the story of the bank to life and the museum allows us better to understand the impact banking has had across the generations.”

When I first came to Melbourne and saw ANZ’s many branches, it was hard not to be impressed by the 19th century gothic grandeur of the Verdon Chambers branch at the corner of Queen and Collins Street.


Better known as the gothic bank and classified by the National Trust of Victoria as being of world significance, it can stop you in your tracks as you go about life in Melbourne, grabbing a coffee or running for a tram.


It’s been a backdrop to the lives of Melburnians for more than 137 years now.


Marvellous Melbourne


When “Marvellous Melbourne” was one of the richest cities in the world on the back of Victoria’s gold rush, a grand city was built almost overnight. And the gothic bank was one of the most striking creations.


Built between 1883 and 1887, it was the Australian head office of the English, Scottish & Australian Chartered Bank, the forerunner of today's ANZ. It is a superb example of architect William Wardell’s Gothic Revival style.


It was also the residence of the bank’s General Manager Sir George Verdon, who had a luxurious 17 rooms to choose from. (I’m pretty sure I know how my board would react if I suggested something similar today).




When the opportunity emerged to restore this architectural icon to its former glory there was no question ANZ would complete this project as a contribution to the city, our customers and the broader community.


Since 2022, ANZ and design partners Foolscap Studio, have worked closely with Heritage Victoria, local curators, historians, archivists and Traditional Owners to complete a refurbishment befitting the building’s architectural and historical heritage.


While the restoration is about the bricks and mortar, it touches on an even bigger story – one of the people who walked through its doors, used its services and built their lives in an increasingly complex city.


While the refurbished bank includes an ANZ specialist hub providing banking services - it also houses a museum charting the history of ANZ and the site.


For example, Saint Mary MacKillop – a champion of educating the poor - was a customer of the bank and a ledger with her signature is preserved on site.


Such documents bring the story of the bank to life and the museum allows us better to understand the impact banking has had across the generations.


There are also fascinating anecdotes from more recent history. I was amazed to learn there is still a lady alive today who lived upstairs in the bank manager's residence - her father being one of the last caretakers.


Many people in the community still hold a connection to this building and it is important to preserve that for future generations.



Living history


We cannot take our history for granted. The renovation of the gothic bank reveals how buildings like this often reveal their stories and secrets over time.


Not long after I became CEO of ANZ, the historic vaults below the gothic bank were being emptied and families were asked to come forward to claim their deposit boxes. One particular case captured my imagination and brought the history of the building alive.


A customer emptied their deposit box and produced a grapefruit-sized gold nugget from the Victorian gold fields. History is all around us, sometimes hiding in a long forgotten deposit box.


To be a steward of this history and a custodian of such an iconic building is a great responsibility. As far back as I can recall, I’ve always been entranced by architecture.


As a child I was fascinated with the Great Pyramids of Giza as a gateway to ancient history. Also, more modern innovations like Shigeru Ban’s Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch, which helped that city after its tragic earthquake in 2011.


How should those stewards of significant historic structures carry out their duty? This was foremost in my mind when I took responsibility for the gothic bank.


Rather than locking these artefacts up somewhere, we wanted this history to be accessible to all. Likewise, we wanted people to walk through the gothic bank and experience its grandeur.


On those grounds, I see this restoration as a gift to the people of Melbourne. Or rather, maybe it should be a “thank you” for hosting us over those many years.


Shayne Elliott is Chief Executive Officer of ANZ

Related Articles:

The gothic bank and the rise and fall of Marvellous Melbourne

ANZ’s Queen St branch represents a fascinating time in the history of not just the bank but Victoria and Australia.

The ghost of banking past

ANZ’s safety deposits facility – and maybe something else - has kept a watchful eye on secrets for more than a century.

On history and breaking into your own bank

ANZ isn’t a 200-year old startup, but has a similar story of humble origins.