Banknotes, bandages and brushes: Rob Willis looks at past, future of CBD building

The former Bank of Australasia. Photo from the Forbes Museum's Pictorial Forbes collection.

The former Bank of Australasia. Photo from the Forbes Museum's Pictorial Forbes collection.

My family folklore has it that the paperwork for the sale of the Bank of Australasia building to The Forbes Ambulance was signed on our family kitchen table in 1943.

This could have been a fact as my grandfather, Percy West, was a driving force for the purchase of the building.

With the recent acquisition of the building by Forbes Art Society for use as a Multifunctional Centre I started looking for more information on the building and its history, always a fun task that takes many twists and turns

The Bank of Australasia came to Forbes in 1862 but did not move into its new, purpose-built building on the corner of Court and Lachlan streets until 1921.

The Forbes Advocate of 6th December 1921 praised the new building and its modern facilities.

"New bank of Australasia - a splendid structure. "

"This fine building standing on the corner of Lachlan and Court streets occupies one of the best sites in the town and it can with truth be said that the structure is well worthy of the site and capable of being classed with the best buildings in the town.

The most striking feature is the massive corner piers which rise from the pavement and are carried right to the roof. The entrance porch is enclosed with neat iron gates which are reached by white Terrazzo steps.

The main entrance doors open into the vestibule which is nicely finished in pure white and arctic glass in the windows. Through a swing door the cool and spacious banking chamber is entered.

A complete sewerage system, the only one of its kind in Forbes has been installed by Mr Montgomery Neilson of Sydney who sent his experts along to carry out the work.

Electric tubes have also been put in all the walls in anticipation of the time when electricity becomes an accomplished fact at Forbes. The outbuildings comprise stable, coach house and loft. The contract price for the new buildings was 4,500 pounds."

The bank closed on March 1st 1943 and the building was put up for sale.

In early days Forbes Ambulance service came under the jurisdiction of Parkes and it wasn't until 1938 that Mr Alf Wheeler became the first superintendent in Forbes.

Ambulance services at this time were not subsidised by Government and fundraising for both vehicles and wages had to be done on a local level, another interesting story.

The Ambulance station in the early days was situated where the current Rural Lands Protection Board is but for various reasons this was deemed unsuitable.

When the Bank of Australasia closed in early 1943 the Ambulance committee decided to purchase the building. However, this wasn't going to be easy.

There were objections from both the State Ambulance Board and local Municipal Council regarding the purchase, the most surprising being from the Council objecting to the use of a prime location and loss of rates because the Ambulance was a charity and therefore did not have to pay them.

The Ambulance Board's rationale for objection was, to me, completely irrational and too lengthy for further discussion here.

Forbes Advocate, Tuesday 15th June 1943.

"The proposal of Forbes District Ambulance to purchase the old Bank of Australasia premises on the corner of Lachlan and Court streets for the purpose of an Ambulance Station has raised a number of objections one of which comes from Forbes Municipal Council which will lose something like 160 pounds per annum in rates if the scheme is carried into effect.

The Mayor said for his own part he was not personally concerned what the Ambulance spent on the acquisition of an up-to-date station but he thought it quite unnecessary that such an institution should acquire the number one business position in the town being as it was immediately opposite the Post Office."

The final amount paid by the local Ambulance committee for the building was 3150 pounds but this was offset by the disposal of the old Ambulance premises to the Forbes Pastures Protection Board for the sum of 600 pounds.

This was nearly what they had given for the premises when purchased.

It must be remembered, again, that at this time the local Ambulance service received no fiscal support from Government and was entirely dependent on local fundraising.

The cause was strongly supported at all levels and thanks must go to the folk of Forbes in this era for keeping the Service going.

Finally the Forbes Advocate of Friday the 13th of August 1943 had this news.

Permission granted for the purchase of Bank premises as Ambulance station.

"At the meeting of the Forbes District Ambulance Committee held on Tuesday evening the president Dr Vout announced that on the previous day a communication had been received from the Federal treasurer Mr Chifley giving permission to the committee to purchase the Bank of Australasia premises at Forbes for the purpose of an Ambulance Station. On the motion of Mr L Martin and Mr P West this was carried."

The rest is recent history and hopefully this magnificent building will rise from the ashes in its new artistic guise.

Sadly, I did not find out if the sale documents were signed on our kitchen table by my grandfather, Percy West.