Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey

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Bank House

11-19 Bank Place, Melbourne

Circa late 1960's showing the Mitre Tavern and above right the upper floors of Bank House The Mitre Tavern with the southern edge of Bank House on the right The Mitre Tavern pictured at the time of the auction of 1930

Location :

Western side of Bank Place, Melbourne (north-western corner of Mitre Lane, now converted to an al fresco drinks area for the Mitre Hotel)

History :

Technically not a Control Data Australia work place, but the premises of E. L. Heymanson and Co., manufacturer's agents, who were the early agents for Control Data Corporation in Melbourne before the Australian subsidiary was incorporated on Friday,17 May, 1963.

By the end of the Second World War, the company was intimately involved in the aviation industry - at least with the Wright Aircraft Corporation in 1945 and in later years, the company is known to have had extensive facilities at Moorabbin Airport, several commercial photographs circa 1960s of well-known aircraft noted as being taken at their hangar when they were agents for Lockheed

E. L. Heymanson & Co. Pty. Ltd. became agents for CDC from 1 January, 1962 after previously representing Ramo-Wooldridge and Philco Computer Systems (the latter purchased by Ford Motor Company in 1961).

The first Control Data equipment to be installed in Australia was a 160-A in Heymanson’s offices in Bank House, Bank Place, the installation performed by John Barth of CDC. The company around that time also had offices in Sydney (Royal Exchange Insurance Building, O'Donnell Street) and Canberra (City Chambers, Alinga Street).Bank House is a five-story structure standing alongside the Mitre Tavern, the latter according to Melbourne City Council records Melbourne's oldest surviving building.  

Computers and aviation (and other Heymanson agencies) made for strange bedfellows in Bank House, as the name suggests most of the tenants of 1963 very much more involved with the professions, the directory showing:

Ground floor : a finance company, two stock brokers, two solicitors and an accountant, the first floor entirely occupied by the Worker's Compensation Fund, the third by Heymanson, a debt collector and three solicitors, and the fourth by the Hemingway Robertson Institute (listed as tutors), the Dale Carnegie Centre and a publisher's representation, these three probably all part of Robertson's corporate structure.

The fifth floor was the residential quarters of the caretaker, then one William Turner.  Whether there was an anonymous tenant or the area was left vacant is unknown, but there was no entry listed for the second level between 1961 and 1963 with 1964 showing the occupancy as Kent, Brierley and Barraclough, accountants.

This was the last year Heymanson & Co. occupied Bank House, the company shown in 1964 at 94 William Street.

Whether these were smaller or larger premises is unknown - certainly by then the 160-A would have found the first of its several homes at the P.M.G’s Research Laboratories at 19 Lonsdale Street and the three Heymanson employees who crossed to Control Data (Trevor Robinson, Jim McGeorge and Claire Manuel) had moved to Eton Square.

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Strangely enough, despite Bank Place nestling in the centre of the financial section of Melbourne, it was once the centre of Melbourne's bohemian life, the building directly opposite Bank House at number 12, once known as White Hall purchased in 1923 by The Savage Club, founded in 1894 by Australia's first baronet, Sir William Clarke with the aim of bringing together those connected with literature, arts or science.   

The club still functions, and although its membership is highly secretive with a strong code of silence, it is known that Sir Robert Menzies served as president from 1947 to 1962 and other presidents have included leading judges and Queen's Counsel.  Many of Australia's most famous artists and art patrons have also been members, while recent members are believed to include Barry Humphries, Ted Bailleau and John Elliott.

The local group was based on The Savage Club of London, formed in 1857 and there are Savage Clubs in Adelaide, Perth and Sydney.

The Bank House site was originally known as Eldon Chambers which appears to have existed prior of 1860 (it in fact preceded the Mitre Tavern). In 1903 the two floors were occupied, the ground section by two solicitors and an architect, the first by another architect, a typist, and W. T. Wright, "Australian Live Stock Manual".

The original section of Bank House was built in 1903 when tenders were issued on behalf of the printers mentioned in the insert above, Messrs Mason, Firth, and McCutcheon Pty. Ltd for the erection of new premises on the Eldon Chambers site (unfortunately all references are to plans in the office with no detailed specification as to what the building may have been like). Directories always ran about six months behind, and the 1904 version still showed a mix of professions under Eldon Chambers, but in 1905, Bank House was fully occupied by the printers. With their full occupancy, no floor-by-floor layout was given, but it known that there were originally three floors in Bank House.

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Bank House was bought and extensively renovated and expanded in 1923 by businessman Charles Victor Robertson to house his Hemingway Robertson Institute [1] formerly at 528 Collins Street. Two additional floors were added, a tell-tale sign being a ledge around the top of third floor designating the previous height of the building.

(The Bank referred to in both the thoroughfare and building appears to have been the Bank of Australasia).

While checking a query as to solicitors that operated in Bank House  (Ron Bird thought his first wife may have worked as a secretary to a solicitor there), I noted there were 11 or 12 offices on most floors in 1954, but this dropped to five or six in 1956, which makes me suspect there may have been some re-modelling and renovation to create larger spaces.   Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, a restaurant (in the later years, "The Gallery"), operated on the fifth-floor, a rather out-of-the way location for general trade, but perhaps aimed at the bohemian lifestyle in Bank Place at the time.

Today

At the time of updating (October, 2015), the building appears to be empty; certainly the ground level viewable from Bank Place, and the double doors were securely locked, it seems highly unlikely any of the upper floors were in use.

The narrowness of that section of Bank Place makes a meaningful image of Bank House almost impossible, but it is a an eye-pleasing baroque-style building and hopefully may survive as a residential complex, although I suspect that the restricted vehicle access and lack of parking may make conversion difficult.  

But if it so happens, then sans car, I want one!

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The Mitre Tavern

It is almost impossible to discuss Bank Place without touching on its near-neighbour, the Mitre Tavern.

The site is believed to have operated as a hotel since 1868, the first publican Henry Thompson, but it is known to have been used as residence for some years before that and parts of the building may date back to Melbourne's foundation in the mid-1830s.

Six additional bedrooms were ordered to be added by a Licences Reduction Board hearing in 1923, but the licensee contested the order, maintaining that the number and quality of the meals served there compensated the lack of accommodation and that altering the building would be an act of vandalism. Fortunately the licensee’s appeal succeeded and the building retained its original character.

The building was offered at an auction in August, 1930 which attracted a huge crowd of bidders and on-lookers; it was passed in at £22,250, but was subsequently bought by the Royal Insurance Company (under bidders at the auction) for £24,000.  Royal Insurance planned to demolish the Mitre for extensions to their Collins Street building, but the company had a later change of heart and the Mitre won another reprieve.

Prior to the sale, the Mitre was owned by The Trustees, Executors and Agency Co. Ltd., who were planning a new ten-storey building on the site of the London Bank building at 401-403 Collins Street (they are noted as acquiring the building in 1918 at a cost of £6,500).  The Mitre was part of their existing property at 412 Collins Street.  The building was noted as having a frontage of 45 feet and seven inches and a depth of 68 feet. Fortunately, Royal Insurance had a later change of heart and the Mitre won another reprieve.

(Coincidentally, my first experience of the Mitre was in 1976 when contracted to Royal Insurance, my first contract after leaving Control Data.  The Mitre Tavern also provided the name for the hardware chain, Mitre-10 - the founders apparently lunching there to discuss plans for the original stores and deciding to name them after the Tavern - legend has it that there were six stores in the original chain but "Mitre-6" sounded a bit "naffy" and they went for ten instead!

Ron Bird also remembers the highlight of his then eight-year old life as being allowed to drive the manually-operated hydraulic lift one Saturday morning while his father was making deliveries there in his 1929 Rover. His father manufactured “binding staples” that were used to file away paper invoices, receipts etc. Ron reckons there were around four million of these manufactured between 1946 and 1963 and his father was the only producer of such a product in Australia or NZ.


[1] The Hemingway Robertson Institute was a correspondence school specialising in accountancy and business courses.