Map of Tasmania with the words Rosebery Tas.

Life as a bank teller in Rosebery, Tasmania – 1963

A Rosebery Post Card c1963

At the age of 19, I reached Rosebery on the West Coast of Tasmania arriving at the beginning of January 1963 and would remain stationed in the town until late October in that year.

It was my first transfer and first time living away from home and had not previously visited the town or area. My position was Branch teller and Second Officer at the English, Scottish and Australian Bank Ltd. The other staff, Manager, Noel Beswick and machinist and ledger keeper Sandra Young, later replaced by Jenny Bennion. My predecessor was David Badcock, a distant cousin.

The only other Bank in the town was the Hobart Savings Bank with the Post Office acting as an agent for the Commonwealth Saving Bank.

A car parked in front of a building

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Rosebery E S & A Bank – 1963

My accommodation was a room at the rear of the Branch, adjoining the Manager’s office and connected by a doorway. With regular chatter about robbing the Bank, we were always mindful of safety. The sound of metallic noises could regularly be heard under the floor, causing me to wonder if someone was burrowing in from beneath, but finally, I came to the conclusion that it was mining sounds from below.

An earlier resident teller got a scare when he was awoken one-night hearing noises coming from the Manager’s Office. He slightly opened the door and could see a dog and immediately thought that a dog could not get in by himself so there must be a person inside. He scruffed the dog, threw him out the back door, slammed his bed against the door, but could not go back to sleep. At daylight, he went outside to investigate and found the front door had been forgotten to be locked the night before. From then on, the teller slept with a gun under his pillow.

Rosebery’s beginnings can be dated to 1893 when prospector Tom McDonald, employed by the Rosebery Gold Mining Company, discovered gold in the Mount Black area and staked out a claim. He also discovered boulders of lead/zinc sulphide in a creek.

Rosebery was named after the Rosebery Gold Mining Company which had in turn, been named after Archibald Primrose, 5th. Earl of Rosebery, who was also Prime Minister of Britain 1894-1895.

Rosebery’s sole industry is mining, and since the discovery of minerals in 1893, it has had a checkered existence, particularly before 1936. This was due to the complexity of how the metals were attached to each other and the difficulty of profitably separating them. These minerals were zinc, lead, copper, cobalt, iron, gold, and silver. During the years until 1926, the mining of ore was periodically limited and sometimes stopped.

A change came in 1921 when Electrolytic Zinc Company of Australia (EZ Co) acquired all the mines at Rosebery and Williamsford, four miles away at Mount Read. By 1926 they commenced building a new processing plant at the Rosebery mine site which used a newly developed flotation system to separate cheaply and effectively the various metals. But with the coming of the Great Depression and low metal prices, did not commence operating till 1936. During this time the mine was closed for some years, as also the Rosebery E.S. & A. Bank branch, an agency of Zeehan. As part of the operation, ore from Williamsford was sent to Rosebery for processing, carried in buckets with capacity of one third of a ton, transported along a four-mile-long aerial ropeway. It was built in 1931 and remained in use until 1986. 

Since 1936 the mine has continuously operated using the flotation system and has processed large amounts of ore, with a monetary return over the life of the mine estimated at more than eight billion dollars, making it the highest money generating mine on the West Coast of Tasmania.

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Rosebery is a remote place surrounded by mountains and dense rain forest. Its climate is damp, with moist summers and cold, very wet winters. The rainfall varies between 80 and 120 inches per year. So constant was the rain that locals joked, with some truth, that it rained 11 months of the year and dripped off the trees on the 12th month. Sunshine days averaged only 16 in the year. Washing was not often placed outdoors but pegged to dry under verandahs.

Till the late 1950s, Rosebery had no road connections to other centres. This changed with the building of the six-mile-long Renison Bell roadway. Further roads soon followed, to Tullah, 5 miles to the north around 1960, and the building of the Murchison Highway missing link of some 40 miles, which opened on 13 December 1963, enabling easier access to Burnie and other centres.  

Till the coming of the roads, access to the town could only be had by train from Burnie, thus making the town very isolated.

Road distances –

  • Hobart         315km (196 miles)
  • Launceston       321km (200 miles)
  • Burnie       109km (68 miles)
  • Queenstown      55km (34 miles)
  • Zeehan         25km (16 miles)
  • Renison Bell         9km (6 miles)
  • Tullah           8km (5 miles)

Travel for me in 1963 was via the Central Highlands, which included ascending the Great Western Tiers Mountain range, passing the Great Lake, then turning off at Miena and taking the Missing Link Road to Derwent Bridge, a distance of 102 miles, halfway by time but with a further 82 miles to reach Rosebery. With average conditions travel time each way was around four and a half hours, this increasing up to six hours in wintery conditions of snow, ice, rain and fog.

Mount Arrowsmith was soon reached with the road being steep and single laned, with passing bays at intervals cut into the mountain side. If two vehicles met one would have to reverse to a passing bay. In winter the Mount Arrowsmith road was often covered with snow, ice and fog, resulting in numerous accidents.

Roads near Queenstown were also challenging with their many hairpin bends. A noticeboard at the top of one high hill advised drivers to take care as over the next mile there were 99 bends.

The population of Rosebery in 1963 was stated as 3,500 but has since much declined. Between 1996-2001 numbers declined by 22% and by 2021 (census) had further reduced to 749 persons.

Due to the remoteness and challenging climate of the town, the EZ Co offered high wages and provided modern housing at low rental to encourage mine workers to come and for many years, and still today, is noted as the highest income town in Tasmania.

Consequently, families were drawn to the town from throughout Australia and overseas, a number arriving from central European countries. The aim was to earn high wages with a stay averaging around three years.

I recall one miner, a native of a central European country, of him arranging to forward £100 per month to his lady friend there, the maximum permitted by exchange control regulations. This was a large amount, equating to the yearly wage paid to a Bank Manager at the time.

Payday for the miners and mill employees was paid by cash each Friday fortnight, with the management staff paid monthly from Melbourne by direct credit to their bank account. In total, during 1963, the mine payroll was around £28,000 to £30,000 per fortnight, which in today’s values would equate to over a half million dollars. In addition, two bonuses were paid, the mid-year bonus around one and half times the fortnightly pay, with a second bonus paid in December amounting to four times the fortnightly payment.

Families planning to move away would wait until the bonus was received. As people left a carnival atmosphere swept through the town. Furniture and household items would be placed on the footpath for sale and goodbye celebrations held.

The cash required was forwarded from our Burnie Branch, with two boxes received on Thursday before pay day. It arrived by train by post and carried in the guard’s van and collected from the post office.

On pay day, six EZ Co. employees would arrive in a vehicle and on entering the Bank would lock the door with no one permitted to enter. They would stand around the counter and count the money and to provide security, each had a loaded gun in front of them. My pistol was held under the counter. Outside the local police constable kept guard holding a loaded shot gun. He would escort the payroll back to the mine.

On the Friday payday the Bank remained open till 5.00pm with thousands of pounds lodged by customers and then on the next Monday, the closing time was extended beyond the normal closing time of 3.00pm till 4.30pm.

Over a period of days much of the cash would be returned to our bank, which would be parcelled up and returned to our Burnie Branch.

When leaving Rosebery in late October 1963, I travelled out to Guildford Junction aboard the Emu Bay train with my Volkswagen car being carried aboard a flat top wagon.

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Pistol Practice – Ivan Badcock – 1963
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Volkswagen – Ivan Badcock – Aboard Rail Flattop – Leaving Rosebery 1963

Written by Ivan Badcock – 24 March 2024

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