Double Bay Bizarre

New South Head Road winds down the hill from Edgecliff, past a trio of derelict mansions with smashed windows and boarded-up gates, soon to be a new development, and rows of art deco apartment buildings.

NSH Rd Mansion

At the bottom of the hill the traffic slows as it passes through the shopping centre of Double Bay. It’s a fairly predictable collection of local shops from assorted eras, early twentieth century shops with awnings, 1960s arcades, a few newer buildings here and there. All goes along as expected until the corner of Knox St.

NAB Double Bay

Architect: Willy Wonka. Surely Sydney’s most bizarre bank building, the Double Bay branch of the National Australia bank has long operated from this conundrum. Every time I pass by it becomes something else in my imagination: a bath toy, a plastic comb, a kitchen implement, a cartoon castle. Bank architecture usually favours the solid square and dependable. Bank buildings give off the message that your money is safe inside. But not at Double Bay. Here the bank building gives the impression that at any moment a flood of banknotes may come shooting out the funnel at the top.

Back in the 1960s, the precursor to the National Australia Bank, the CBC Bank, operated at this location from a much more sensible sandstone and tile premises.

Dble Bay2 60

But as the 60s turned to the 70s, and Double Bay became the place to buy garish floor-length gowns in psychedelic patterns, it was decided that the ladies needed a futuristic bank to match their outfits.

Photo: National Archives.

Photo: National Archives.

They were already at the forefront of banking technology: Sydney’s first automatic teller machine accessible after hours from the street was installed at the Double Bay CBC. This video explains how the “instant cash” machines were to work. (Watch for Ian’s look of terror at 1:03. Also youtube has the wrong date, the footage is from the ABC in 1969.)

Last week, after I drove down the hill past the abandoned mansions and into Double Bay, I noticed something had changed at the bank.


D bay Bank 4

The exterior was stripped of its NAB signs, and inside it was filled up to the windows with parcels wrapped in brown paper. The parcels were of all shapes and sizes, like oversized Christmas presents. At first I thought they might be the furniture from the bank but on closer inspection they were the contents of a house. The parcels were annotated with their contents: “floor lamp son’s bedroom”, “2 wooden chairs Dining Room”, “coffee table”, and stickers declaring them to have been shipped from Athens.

D bay bank 5

Sydney is dotted with ex-banks, solid buildings now occupied by anything and everything from chicken shops to gyms, yoga studios and day spas. But the fate of Sydney’s most bizarre bank building is still uncertain.

16 Comments on “Double Bay Bizarre”

  1. juliebail says:

    I have always been gobsmacked by that NAB bank. Thank you for you great posts, full of insight, and history and affection.

  2. suzanne says:

    Excellent story on DB. Always wondered about those derelict mansions, they just cry out from another era of the 1930s and 40s. Thanks.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Suzanne – yes those mansions are striking in their abandoned state, although it seems they won’t be there much longer as the development plans gather speed.

  3. meganix says:

    Thanks Vanessa. A beaut bit of research and comment.

  4. David says:

    The photo of the NAB with all of those Double Bay dogs crossing the road with their walkers is so Double Bay.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      It sure is – I felt like I was there at a lucky moment when all those dogs were going across, but then I realised that scene probably happens quite often.

  5. Ash says:

    Made the trip to Double Bay. I don’t explore East side very often. I imagine disapproving stares of posh people who instantly recognize a Bankstown Boy in their midst.

    That said I witnessed some amazingly bogan behaviour. Waiting to cross at the lights I saw a tattooed ankle hanging out the window of a Mercedes 4WD. I noticed that the drivers honk their horns angrily, not because of clueless drivers still sitting at the lights but because they were in a hurry and wanted someone out of the way.

    It is quite stuck in the past as well. The shops had a very 1070’s feel to them, not in a derelict way, but I would of imagined the shopping strip to have been more frequently updated.

    I’m also guessing Bondi Junction Westfield has had an impact on Double Bay.


    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Good to hear you went exploring the east Ash! Yes I think the opening of the Westfield had a big impact on Double Bay – I found a few references to a decline in the DB shopping district when Wesfield opened around 2003.
      I too am not as familiar with the east as other parts of Sydney. There are some interesting old places I will have to return to and explore further. So much to explore! I look forward to seeing some of your eastern suburbs photos.

  6. Carringtonia says:

    Loved the you tube clip – good to know those cards can’t be forged! I’ve been trying to work out what the funnel is on the front of the building – is it a lift shaft? Or a precursor to the atm as you suggest?

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      I don’t know about the funnel, it’s a mystery! If I had to guess I’d say a lift shaft – there is a door on the first floor of the tube – I’ve never known there to be a lift in there, though. I will see if I can get to the bottom (or the top) of it!

  7. Sean says:

    Speaking of old school Double Bay – DB used to be THE place for great second hand bookshops in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. There were at least 4 or 5 close together. I used to browse for hours in my younger years.

  8. jonirush says:

    I saw a building in Parramatta that met a similar fate– random items from a household for sale in an empty glass shopfront, hand-drawn signs. I think that this is some loophole to show that the building is technically being used as a business? Some sort of tax break?

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