I strayed outside of Melbourne for a little while and visited the Historical Society of a small country town called Warracknabeal. Its distance from the city has helped preserve all sorts of weird and wonderful things.
The society sits within an old State Savings Bank that has hardly changed since the last tellers left. It was built in 1909, with a second floor added in 1921 for the banker to live in (talk about completely failing to not take your work home with you).
The collection includes a long rod, coated in flaking black veneer. A guide asked if I knew what it was for.
Holding pages down?
Reaching unconventionally high light switches?
Possibly, but try again.
Hitting locals over the wrist when they defaulted on their loans?
That’s the other rod.
Answer?… It’s a ruler. A rolling ruler.
The bank’s benches are slightly tilted. With hundreds of accounts to write up by hand in ink, tellers had to make sure each line of the account books was properly lined up. They’d rule a line, guided by the rod, before letting it roll down to the next space.
While we’re talking benches, the front benches of the bank and the chairs on which the tellers sat were all raised just enough to mean they were higher than the bank’s customers. The bankers would have quite literally have looked down at you when you went to make withdrawals.
The beginnings of the town were in 1845 when two brothers set up a camp as squatters along the Yarriambiack Creek and decided to stay. They took the Aboriginal word for the gumtrees on the waterway, “Werracknabeal”, for the area. This comes from the local Werrigia language. The heritage of this particular language group stretches back at least 1,600 years before the Scott brothers.
European settlement introduced new crops to the area, particularly wheat. The crops were badly suited to the local landscape and climate, making farming a constant struggle. Less than twelve inches of rain fell in all of 1901, meaning that the townsfolk probably had very little to deposit by the time the bank first opened.
Incidentally, pamphlets in the historical society note that the town is also the birthplace of singer and writer, Nick Cave.
Many thanks to Ray Hewitt who showed me around.
If you’d like to find out more about the town, check out the Warracknabeal Historical Society’s website.