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100-YEAR BANK ACCOUNT
... AND KING O'MALLEY

Picture courtesy Charles Calkins
 
A sprightly 104-year-old widow who lives near us, 50 miles north of Sydney, has held a personal account with one bank for more than 100 years. That must surely be a world record.

On her fourth birthday, in 1904, her mother gave her a shiny new English copper penny which served as a deposit to open an account with the Broken Hill branch of the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales. (Australia did not mint its own coins until 1910).

In 1912, the GSB was one of several Government banks which amalgamated to form the Commonwealth Bank. The 12-year-old customer's account, no doubt holding considerably more than the original penny, was transferred to the new bank, where it has remained ever since.

A few weeks ago, a trio of bankers, headed by Commonwealth Bank group executive Hugh Harley, paid her a surprise visit. Harley presented his 104-year-old customer with a bunch of flowers to mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of her account.

[We think the Bank could have been a tad more generous. The Sydney magazine The Bulletin gave her a dollar for every year of her age, when it published a cover story about her.]

Just how much would that first English penny be worth today?

Searching the internet for a compound interest calculator, we found a helpful American educational website, FinAid, run by Mark Kantrowitz. We asked him what a penny would be worth if interest had compounded at 5% for 100 years. He replied: "That would be 131.5 English pennies (5% compounded annually for 100 years). If compounded monthly, it would be 146.9 English pennies."

Next we researched the history of the Commonwealth Bank, which, to quote from its website, "opened for business on 15 July 1912, offering savings bank facilities at both its solitary branch, 317 Collins Street, Melbourne and at 489 agencies located in post offices throughout Victoria. During the following year branches were established in the other capital cities, as well as in Canberra, Townsville and London. Postal agencies were also established across Australia."

The Australian League of Rights' website tells how a colourful American migrant helped launch the Commonwealth Bank:

King O'Malley had made a close study of the banking question and upon joining the Australian Labor Party, made every endeavour to interest his colleagues. King O'Malley was a Federal Minister in the Fisher Labor Government before his long campaign for the establishment of a government bank creating credit, was successful.

There have been many stories of the stratagems to which O'Malley allegedly resorted to persuade or cajole his reluctant colleagues to establish a bank, one being that, in true American Western style, he wore two guns to a Cabinet meeting, placing them on his desk to emphasise his point. Although O'Malley was certainly a colourful character in more ways than one, there is no reliable evidence for the story about the guns.

Pursuing this fascinating subject, we found a website owned by Ian O'Malley, of Brisbane, Queensland, who is trying to discover if he's related to King O'Malley. Ian, a superannuation and financial planning compliance consultant, has given us permission to quote the following story, which reveals that King O'Malley was working as an insurance salesman in Northern Tasmania before he entered politics. It says:

King O'Malley arrived in Australia from the US about 1888. It appears as though he might have been escaping a financial scandal, but his detractors could never prove it. He claimed he was a British subject and therefore eligible to hold his seat in the Australian Parliament. His political enemies tried to prove that he was an American.

Neither his marriage certificate nor death certificate states a date of birth. O'Malley claimed he was a native of Canada and that he was the son of William and Ellen O'Malley (nee King). He said he was born in Canada on 2 July 1858 at Stanford Farm, just across the border from Valley Field.

Records indicate that he had a brother Walter and an Uncle Edward O'Malley who owned a small bank near Wall Street in New York. He learned banking from his uncle, later becoming an insurance salesman for the Home Insurance Company and later Equitable Life. Apparently in order to pick up a substantial grant of land, he created the "Waterlily Rockbound Church - the Redskin Church of the Cayuse Nation".

Among other claims he made were that he had been married to Rosy Wilmot; that she had died three years after their marriage when he was 28; that his father was killed in the Civil War and that he had been brought up a Catholic but was converted to Wesleyanism.

O'Malley first entered politics in 1896 in Encounter Bay, South Australia but lost the next election. He returned to Tasmania and in 1899 stood for the first election to the Federal House of Representatives. He won the seat and the legend was born.

In 1901 he moved the first formal motion on the establishment of a national capital. In 1912, as the Federal Minister for Home Affairs, he planted the first survey peg at Canberra. Among other things, he is credited as the founder of the Commonwealth Bank.

In 1916, O'Malley who was strongly anti-conscription, had a major run in with Prime Minister Billy Hughes over conscription of young men to the armed services. It led to a division in the caucus and the resignation of a number of Ministers including O'Malley. He died in 1953 with many questions still unanswered.

Ian O'Malley asks: "Can you throw any light on one of the mysteries of Australian politics? Where and when was King O'Malley really born? Was his name really O'Malley or was it Maley?"

If you can answer any of those questions, please send an email to Ian O'Malley: - with a copy to me.

[Ian told us: "King O'Malley has been the subject of at least one Australian play and two books. Most of my information was sourced from A R Hoyle's book King O'Malley "The American Bounder" and D Catts' "King O'Malley, Man and Statesman".]

 

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Story first posted July 2004

Copyright 2004

Eric Shackle

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