Sarah Patterson, the daughter of Geoff Patterson – a former manager at the Commonwealth Bank’s Korumburra branch – reached out to the Sentinel-Times last week.
“News of the bank’s impending closure has brought back a lot of memories for me,” she said in an email.
“My dad always encouraged my writing and I have for many years now worked as a radio journalist and newsreader in Melbourne.
“Attached is a piece I wrote which is as much an account of the bank’s history as it is a tribute to my late dad. I hope you may be able to use it.”
By Sarah Patterson
THE closure of the Commonwealth Bank’s Korumburra branch has opened up a vault of memories for me.
I was four years old when my family arrived in Korumburra from Melbourne, and my dad – Geoff Patterson – took up his new position as manager of the local branch of the Commonwealth Bank, having been transferred from the Glenhuntly branch.
It was the early 1970s, and dad took pride in looking – and dressing – the part. His ties were as wide as the lapels on his suit. In summer, he favoured ‘business shorts’, teamed with long socks and a short-sleeved shirt, a pen clipped neatly over the breast pocket. I can still picture his tan leather briefcase, on which his initials – G.N.P – were embossed in gold.
The Korumburra Times reported dad’s ‘Welcome to Korumburra’ drinks, sending a photographer to the Austral Hotel for the occasion. The resulting happy snap of my dad and local insurance agent Doug Lay propping up the bar, getting to know each other – beers in hand – was published in the paper. They look very deep in conversation – dad leaning forward, listening intently as a young, sideburned Doug spins a yarn.
When I started primary school, dad would take me with him to the bank each morning. He’d open up early and I’d pretend I worked there too. I loved mucking about on the big green Olivetti typewriter next to dad’s office before the other staff arrived for work and I headed off to school, just a short walk from the top of Commercial Street.
Dad and the rest of the staff were like one big happy family. I still remember all their names by heart, and that’s because they all became a part of my life. Carol, Rhonda, Noelene, Sue, Jeff, Phil, Clarrie, Bruce, two Raeleens and two Maurices.
The staff netball team was called the Commbanks, and I loved cheering from the sidelines as Sue and the rest of the team competed each week at Sanders Pavilion.
The staff Christmas parties held each year at our home on Shellcot Road were epic, with mum breaking out the smoked oysters and dad delighting in his party trick of setting little glasses of Galliano alight and handing them around on a big silver tray. Our house was situated on a big block and there was always a bunch of kids running rampant around the place during those parties, waiting for Santa to put in an appearance (sorry Bruce, but we all knew you were Santa).
In those days, the Commonwealth Bank slogan was ‘Get With The Strength’ and involved a heavy emphasis on elephants. There were elephant stickers, elephant pins, plastic elephant money boxes and elephant cufflinks. But my favourite memory to this day remains the infamous giant blue inflatable elephant. This super-sized, blow-up elephant was part of a Karmai Festival float and took pride of place on the back of a truck one year during the annual street parade. My dear friend Jenni Murley and I were allowed to be on the float. We were even supplied with special iron-on elephant logo transfers for our mums to put on our t-shirts. But pumping up a giant elephant takes a bit more elbow grease than blowing up a basketball. I will never forget sitting impatiently on the back of the truck outside Maurice Johnston’s house on Guys Road, waiting for the job to be completed. There was much consternation over the fact the elephant’s trunk wouldn’t stand to attention, and kept crumpling over. An executive decision was made, and the giant elephant ended up making its way down Commercial Street with a decidedly floppy trunk.
My dad was what you’d call a ‘people person’. He connected with people, and they with him. It seems to me that the nature of dad’s job back then was not just to manage a bank, but to be a friend, confidante and guidance counsellor in equal measure.
I know dad helped a lot of people. Helped them put the down payment on their first home. Helped them start their businesses. Helped them keep the wolf from the door. I know this because – even half a century later – these people tell me so.
If I had a dollar for every person who, over the course of my life, has said to me, “your dad was a lovely man”, I’d be very rich by now.
Times have changed and so have our methods of banking. But for me, convenience and efficiency will never replace human interaction. Dad -who passed away 30 years ago – always made people feel like they counted. I can only imagine what he’d make of online banking if he were alive today. I’m not sure he could fathom the concept of not dealing with people face to face.
Whilst I have long since moved away, losing the Commonwealth Bank in Korumburra feels like losing a little piece of myself.